The CSU defense will have a new look this year, but if you paid close attention to last season, it should not look all that different.
In addition to the return of Cory James, a pass rusher who recorded 6.5 sacks last year and ranks fifth all time with 22 at CSU, the team also brings back a host of linebackers who saw significant action last year, such as Kevin Davis and Deonte Clyburn.
“It’s a lot more aggressive,” Clyburn said of the defense under new defensive coordinator Tyson Summers. “A lot more dog in us this year, a lot more bite. They’re letting us run, and letting us rock back.”
For the most part, the Rams will play a similar style to last season, but linebackers will have a little more room – a little more freedom – over the middle of the field. According to Clyburn, that’s partly because of the expectations up front.
“Our D-linemen are making a lot of plays, and our linebackers are going to make a lot of plays, too,” Clyburn added. “We have more room to rock back and play with our instincts.”
Still, the Rams lose starting linebackers Aaron Davis and Max Morgan, who rank sixth and seventh respectively on the CSU all time tackles list. They are gone, and so are the 223 tackles they combined for in 2014.
Kevin Davis and Clyburn both said that the senior linebackers went out of the way to make sure they left the defense in good hands, though. Whether it was on the field or in the film room, they helped guide the younger linebackers and led by example.
“Being behind Max and AD (Davis), and being the (second-string) last year, that’s probably helped us out,” Kevin Davis said. “They were very good at communicating with each other.”
Communication is something Clyburn and Kevin Davis have a head start on. When Clyburn first joined the Rams in 2013, it was Kevin Davis that he looked to for advice.
“I came a year after Kevin,” Clyburn said. “He played as a true freshman, and I played as a true freshman, too. When I came, he got hurt, but as a true freshman, I wanted to talk to somebody who did the same thing as me.”
Clyburn played in all 13 games during the 2014 season and finished with 20 tackles. Davis recorded 22, including 2.5 for lost yardage and a sack, while also earning his first career start in a 45-31 win in the Border War against Wyoming.
But they are not the only Rams ready to step up this year.
Head coach Mike Bobo said after practice Tuesday that Kiel Robinson has impressed in camp so far, and that Josh Watson made some plays in a closed scrimmage held Saturday. He said he is looking at James, who normally plays as a hybrid pass rusher, as someone who could play a more standard linebacking role on the inside as well.
Overall, he likes the group from a talent standpoint, and is now focused on getting them adjusted to the new system.
“I like their athletic skills,” Bobo said. “They are big guys. They can run. They have got the ability to be physical. We need them to be more physical at the point of attack. They’re still learning new concepts and new terminologies, and misfitting a few things, and aren’t playing as fast as we would like them to play, but that will come.”
So even though Kevin Davis and Clyburn are well-prepped, the linebacking corp knows that no spot is guaranteed. They are still looking to make the most of spring ball, and hopefully picked up where the defense left off come fall.
“We’re still going through things,” Kevin Davis said. “There are still position changes being done, guys moving up and down … so everybody has to work their butts off.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.