March 21, 2010
RUSTON, La. - As the Louisiana Tech football team works through its first spring practice season with new head coach Sonny Dykes, LATechSports.com will be taking a look at the progress of various positions on the team. First on the docket is a look at the linebacker corps, led by new linebackers coach Jeff Koonz.
When the 2009 season came to a close, the Bulldog linebacker corps finished the season possibly the most experienced and most banged up group on the team. Closing the season with only four healthy linebackers, everyone at the position that did not receive a redshirt got a chance to make plays in 2009.
Entering the 2010 season, Louisiana Tech only loses two players at linebacker from last year and returns a young, energetic and experienced squad looking to lead the defense.
Last year, the linebackers were led by the play of then-sophomore Adrien Cole who led the team with 93 total tackles and recorded four tackles for a loss of 31 yards. Cole also forced two fumbles and two sacks in 11 games played. Fellow linebacker Jay Dudley was third on the team with 75 tackles and also recorded four tackles for a loss of 15 yards, registering 2.5 sacks and stood out with his 15-tackle day at Utah State on Oct. 24. Dudley also recorded 10-plus tackles in the final two games of the season.
Cole and Dudley were key components of a Louisiana Tech defense that was ranked second in the WAC last year and pass efficiency defense ranked 40th in the nation. With Cole and Dudley back for their junior year in 2010, along with sophomore Solomon Randle, the Bulldogs feature a talent-laden linebacker group ready to lead the charge.
"There is definitely some talent there," Koonz commented. "The Western Athletic Conference is a heck of a conference with great offenses and big football teams and it has shown it over the last three or four years, sending teams to BCS bowl games. Our guys have shown improvement and shown that they can win at this level and win in this league. I am excited about what we have. We have everything we need to be good but what we still have to do is come together as a team, as a defense and as a linebacker unit and polish it off to be really good. It is going to be a lot of work to get to where we need to be but we have all the tools we need to get there but there is a lot of hard work in the meanwhile."
The injuries that plagued Louisiana Tech last season left the Bulldogs with at least one bit of silver lining and that is the wide range of players that have actual game experience entering 2010.
"There are a lot of guys that have played a lot of football in our group," said Koonz. "The speed of the game shouldn't be an issue to those kinds of guys and, at the same time, we have some very talented younger guys as well. Talent doesn't mean anything unless you refine it and become a good football player. I am very excited about the opportunity of the whole room that we have at linebacker. When we get all of those guys playing as one unit, playing within our defense, playing within our program, we will have a chance to be a decent group and have a chance at being a great team."
The future continues to look bright for a linebacker corps that not only saw a lot of playing time and experienced gained last season, but also a crop of younger players that redshirted last season - guys like Rufus Porter and Kendrick James - that have the advantage of a year's experience to learn the speed and level of play at the collegiate level.
The challenge for the Bulldogs is to overcome the injuries suffered last season and some nagging injuries that have surfaced this spring as Cole and Randle spent most of the first week of spring practice wearing the red no-contact jerseys.
"You are always going to have guys that are banged up, bumped and bruised; that's football," Koonz explained. "It is their job to do the treatments to get back on the field and they are doing a good job of that. But what that does is create opportunities for other guys. We have some walk-on guys in the room - the Tracy "T.L." Oakleys, the Chris Buttittas, the Zachary Vosses that are making the reps really add up for them and they are getting a lot of reps right now."
"Then your redshirt freshman guys like Kendrick James and Rufus Porter, those guys are getting all kinds of reps and going against fast competition," continued Koonz. "Injuries are something you deal with and go on. The guys that get hurt have to get back and the guys that get opportunities because of it have to make them count. All of our guys are doing that and I am happy with their work."
Head coach Sonny Dykes echoed Koonz's comments about the linebackers.
"I think it's [the linebackers] a good group, but we've had some guys that have been a little banged up," Dykes said. "[Adrien] Cole and [Solomon] Randle have been out, so we haven't exactly had our guys on the field. However, I liked how our other guys have bounced around. They have really stepped up and improved. I am excited about them."
With the first week of spring practice complete, Koonz and the rest of the defensive coaching staff is guiding the linebackers at working on fundamentals and learning the defense with the goal of having the top ranked defense in the league and stepping up in a league known mainly for its high-powered offenses.
"We've thrown a bunch of stuff at them and we're going to refine it," Koonz commented. "In the meantime, they are doing a great job of making sure they don't get away from their base fundamentals and really working on their feet and eyes, two very important things for linebackers."
"We're a long way from being a finished product," said Koonz. "But the guys are taking pride in every day correcting the majority of the things they did wrong the day before."
For the most comprehensive coverage of Louisiana Tech's spring football practices, check out the Spring Football Central at LATechSports.com. For complete coverage of Bulldog Football, please visit the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics at LATechSports.com.