A Strong Group That Finally Should Be Healthy, A 2020 BC Linebackers Preview
If there is one unit that has limitless potential, it is the linebacking corp. Last year was a mixed bag for this group as injuries hit the Eagles hard. Isaiah McDuffie missed most of the season, while Max Richardson missed the bowl game. With this group looking to get healthy and deep in 2020, what could they bring the Eagles? Let's explore the Boston College linebackers
Returning Players: John Lamot (Sr.), Max Richardson (Sr.), Isaiah McDuffie (Jr.), Nick DeNucci (So.), Joseph Sparacio (So.), Paul Theobald (Jr.), Vinny DePalma (So.), Ezechiel Tieide (So.), Hugh Davis (So.), Thomas Hovsepian (So.).
New Players: Korey Smith
Exiting Players: Doug Rodier
Expectations: Jeff Hafley, and new defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu have to be salivating at the talent they have at this position. Max Richardson is arguably the most talented player on this roster, and Isaiah McDuffie when healthy is a game changer. And of course John Lamot is a big physical thumper at MLB. Even behind the three presumed starters there is a lot of game proven talent. Joseph Sparacio had his moments last year (a big interception against VT), but got exposed by faster running backs. But don't write him off he was only a freshman last year, forced into a starting role. With a new coach and system he could really evolve into an every day player.
Vinny DePalma was another player that saw a good amount of playing time in 2019, playing in all 13 games. He finished the year with 33 tackles, and five tackles for loss. He seemed to get better as the year went along as well, and had a knack for some big plays.
There are also some intriguing players who haven't seen much of the field yet including Hugh Davis, Paul Theobald and new four star linebacker Korey Smith.
While this group was certainly the best group on defense last year, they were by no means perfect. Against Kansas for instance, they were constantly out of place, missed gap assignments and blew tackles. This happened in other games as well. But with good coaching and reps, this group could really evolve in 2020 into an exciting play making group.
Key Position Battle: This would be the one position that there probably won't be a battle as the two deep most likely will stay consistent to last year. SLB will be Isaiah McDuffie, MLB John Lamot and WLB Max Richardson. Even their backups most likely will all be the same, with Sparacio, Davis/Theobald and DePalma all returning.
Areas To Improve: Coverage
In terms of individual players, the starting four really are solid in the roles that they have. The biggest area they struggled last year was in coverage. Think back to the Louisville game, when they had LB's chasing speedy wide receivers and tight ends. I don't blame the players for this, this was a schematic choice by former BC defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and Addazio. Hafley and Lukabu have to figure out how to fix this, because once a team figured out how to exploit it, they could run that play over and over again, especially on passing downs and BC never had an answer.
Impact Player: Max Richardson
With McDuffie's injury last year, it was Richardson who busted on to the scene as the play maker on this defense. He was all over the place, leading the Eagles with 108 tackles, and 3.5 sacks. He has all the measurables and intangibles to become an elite ACC linebacker this year, and with a new coaching staff it will be exciting to see how Hafley uses him.
Player To Step Up: Joseph Sparacio
As mentioned above, Sparacio was a player who had his moments in 2019, as we saw against Virginia Tech. But at other times he looked woefully exposed. While only a freshman, he was sixth on the team with 50 tackles. However, he was one of those linebackers that struggled due to Sheridan's system of pass coverage. Sparacio has a lot of what you would want in a linebacker, he can hit, he's got good instincts, but he needs to be put in a position to blossom. Let's see if Hafley and his staff can do that.