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EWU spring football: Eagles LBs learning to play new scheme

This is the sixth in an eight-part series on spring football at Eastern Washington. Today: the linebackers.
Linebacker John Kreifels couldn’t wait to get on the field for Tuesday’s practice. Pulled away for a quick interview, Kreifels talked excitedly about the Eagles’ transition to a nickel defense (“It’s going great”), new defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding (“the smartest guy I’ve ever been coached by”) and how he hopes to figure in the grand scheme of things (“I learned a lot last year and I just hope to start at rover.”) Kriefels, a redshirt sophomore from Modesto, California, isn’t there yet – senior safety Todd Raynes is running with the first string at rover this spring – but he figures to be a key player this year. Though only 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, Kreifels is the kind of player the Eagles need to step up in their new defensive scheme: a good tackler against the run who’s quick enough to drop into coverage. Last year, he was the understudy for weakside linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who’s graduating. That position is gone, at least in name, with the transition to a 4-2-5 as the Eagles’ base defense. The change in scheme allowed the coaches to move former linebackers Albert Havili and Jordan Talley to D-line and running back, respectively. It also left the remaining backers with a lot of work to do. “There’s a lot of changes in terminology,” said Alek Kacmarcik, a redshirt freshman from Woodinville, Washington. “We have a lot of things to clean up.” That new look means that there will be just two designated linebackers – the Sam and Mike – on the field at one time. Both will line up in the gaps between the offensive guards and tackles. With only one upperclassman among his eight players, linebackers coach Josh Fetter said the emphasis this spring will be “getting aligned right and knowing our assignments.” Fetter added that he’s far from building a depth chart at linebacker; and that players may move from one position to the other between now and the season opener at Oregon on Sept. 5. Here’s a look at how the Eastern linebackers are shaping up this spring: Mike: This linebacker typically plays on the weak side, but still has heavy run-stopping responsibilities. The only upperclassman in the group, redshirt junior Miquiyah Zamora, was starter at the old Mike spot last year. “He’s learning the ins and outs of the Mike position and taking great ownership of it,” Fetter said of Zamora, a 6-1, 220-pounder from Pasco. Also in the mix at the Mike are two redshirt freshmen: Kody Beckering, a 6-0, 190-pounder from Fresno, California; and Kurt Calhoun, a 6-2, 210-pounder from Zillah, Washington. Sam: This ’backer typically plays opposite the strong side of the offensive formation; he also has the biggest role against the run. At this point, two players appear to be contending for the starting spot. Jake Gall, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore from Cle Elum, Washington, is “taking ownership, learning the position, getting the kinks out and rolling with it,” Fetter said. After Zamora, Gall is the most experienced linebacker; he played in all 14 games last year and finished with 19 tackles and one interception. The other is Kacmarcik, a 6-1, 205-pounder who according to Fetter, “Works his butt off and really plays hard.” The other linebackers competing in spring are Mac McLaughlan, a 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Seattle; and Ramsey Davis, a 5-8, 190-pound redshirt sophomore from Tacoma.
Coming Tuesday: part seven, the defensive backs
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