684 tackles. 70 starts. Eight years of combined experience.
That’s what Colorado State has to replace with the departures of Max Morgan and Aaron Davis, two of the most highly-regarded linebackers in school history. The duo wasn’t just two of CSU’s all-time leading tacklers, but they were the heart and soul of the Rams’ defense over the past three years.
But as happens every year, outgoing players must be replaced, and CSU’s dynamic tackling twosome were no different. Looking to replace them are a host of big, talented, fast linebackers who according to head coach Mike Bobo, only lack experience.
“We’ve got some size, we’ve got some athletic ability, but the experience is the thing (we’re missing),” Bobo said. “You’ve got Cory James playing ‘Mike,’ which he’s never played, you’ve got Kiel (Robinson) and Kevin (Davis), but Kevin played a little bit last season and Kiel only played special teams. They don’t have a lot of game reps, so it’s very important that they lock in every day and get better every day. As far as athletic ability, though, I’m really impressed with the linebackers. Josh Watson is another guy who that’s doing a great job, and so is Demontrie Taylor, a guy we moved to ‘Sam.’”
Along with wide receiver, linebacker is one of CSU’s deepest positions, with Robinson, Davis and James running the majority of the first-team reps. However, the aforementioned Watson and Taylor, as well as redshirt sophomore Evan Colorito and junior Deonte Clyburn have been impressive, as well. Though the starters are likely close to set, that hasn’t stopped the competition between players from heating up during the first week of fall camp.
“It’s always a competition,” Clyburn said Thursday. “Once you see another guy make a good play, you feel like you have to make one, too. We really just take it day-by-day and rep-by-rep, and whatever happens you just go with the flow.”
As if replacing two standout linebackers wasn’t hard enough, CSU is also adjusting to a new defensive scheme, moving primarily from a 3-4 to a 4-3. They’ve also changed defensive coordinators, from Al Simmons and Marty English co-coordinating the team last year, to the fiery, young Tyson Summers this season. Simmons is gone, but English, who is the primary linebackers position coach, was retained under Bobo, something all of the linebackers can agree was a huge positive.
“It’s huge to have him back because everybody here is familiar with Coach English,” Kevin Davis said. “He knows how to push us and learning those new calls will be hard sometimes, but he knows how to put it in the old terms we know and help us understand what we’re doing.”
Though the adjustment to Summers’ in-your-face coaching style was a bit of a culture shock at first, players have taken well to both his aggressive scheme and demeanor, praising him for raising the energy and intensity level of the group as a whole.
“At first it was difficult to adjust to, but as time has gone on, it’s been a lot easier,” Robinson said of the adjustment period. “He’s a very fiery guy, but he’s fun to be around and he’s actually pretty funny. Personally, I really like him.”
“I think that’s something that the coaches are really harping on is physicality,” Davis added. “And I definitely think we’re tougher as a group.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.