This is the sixth of an eight-part look at Eastern Washington spring football: the linebackers.
The questions at linebacker at Eastern Washington are already being answered, some from the back of the room.
First there’s redshirt freshman Miquiyah Zamora, last seen redshirting last fall as a defensive back but now finding a place in the middle of the field.
Then there’s Jordan Talley, the No. 3 running back last year, who’s trying out at weak outside linebacker. “Experience is all he’s lacking,” said Eagle linebackers coach Josh Fetter, who might be describing most of the eight players in the fold for spring ball. Three more will arrive this fall, and Fetter said there’s a chance for at least one to contribute immediately.
Yes, the Eagles lost heavily here at graduation. Six players are gone, including starters Zach Johnson and Tyler Washburn. But don’t confuse the new faces with desperation; the Eagles felt confident enough in this group to move Jordan Pulu and John Goldwire to defensive line.
“We’ve just need to get those younger guys some reps and help them out as much as possible,” said senior Ronnie Hamlin (pictured above) who suddenly is the face of Eastern’s front seven.
Here’s a look at how the Eagles look at the three linebacking positions:
SAM – The strong inside linebacker usually lines up inside on the tight end side, and is often responsible for covering the tight end in a passing situation. Hamlin, who earned the job in 2011 and excelled last year, is the acknowledged leader of the group, by attititude and example.
Hamlin, a 6-foot-2, 210 pound senior, sets an example simply by “how hard he plays, and how he just leaves it all out there,” Fetter said.
“He prepares and puts in the extra time as far as off-season training, and he’s just a good person,” Fetter added.
Moreover, Hamlin was the Eagles’ leading tackler with 136, which was 45 more than anyone else on the team. He also had 13 tackles for loss and two interceptions.
Hamlin, who is a junior academically, may yet get another year beyond 2013, assuming he successfully petitions the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility stemming from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2010 season.
Cedric Gonzales, a 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman, is a backup at the SAM position.
WILL – The Will, or weak outside linebacker, often faces a slot receiver, so footspeed and changing direction is crucial. Last year, the Eagles lost former All-American Zach Johnson, and his replacement, J.C Agen, to injury; Johnson is gone, while Agen is still not quite 100 percent after suffering a torn pectoral muscle midway through the season. “It feels good to be running around,” said Agen, a 6-2, 210-pound senior who is participating in all spring drills save full contact.
“It’s good to be back with my guys,” Agen said.
Backup Talley, a 5-10, 200-pound sophomore who hasn’t played defense since his sophomore year in high school “is extremely bright and getting better at every practice,” Fetter said. “His biggest thing is to get the reps and get the vision of what he needs to do.”
Another candidate is Gavin Deyarmin, a 6-1, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Central Valley High School.
MIKE:The Mike, or middle linebacker, is primarily a run-stopper, backing up the interior line. “And if they’re clicking,” Fetter said, “then we don’t get touched. If they keep their motors running, then we’re free to make plays.”
Junior Cody McCarthy (6-1, 230) was the Eagles’ utility ‘backer last fall, but expects to start at Mike this fall.
Zamora a 6-1, 205-pounder from Pasco who switched from safety, is the probable backup. “He’s a tough kid, and the only thing lacking is experience,” Fetter said.