Blend of youth and experience at linebacker anchors CSU football’s defense

Despite play that has been inconsistent in many aspects, one area of the CSU football team that has remained a constant during the young season is the play of the linebackers.

Through the first two games of the season, when the Rams have needed a big play or a big stop on defense one of the linebackers have stepped up to make a play.

All of the Rams’ 6 sacks and 9.5 of the Rams’ 10 tackles for a loss so far this year have come at the hands of one of the linebackers.

To the Rams, however, the success of the defense hinges not only on what the linebackers do, but how effectively the entire unit performs together on the field.

“I don’t necessarily think that we hold (the defense) together because the D-line and the DB’s are playing great too,” senior linebacker James Skelton said. “But I think we kind of strive to do that, yeah, but I think it’s on everybody at the same time.”

Despite the loss of veterans Mychal Sisson (graduation) and Mike Orakpo (expulsion) at the beginning of the year, the Rams’ linebacking corps has found production and leadership from younger players that have again made the linebackers a strength of the Rams in 2012.

Redshirt freshman Cory James and Sophomore Aaron Davis have each recorded 14 tackles through the first two games of the year.

James in particular has stood out as a playmaker for the Rams, leading them with 3 sacks and  4 tackles for a loss through his first two games as a starter in 2012.

The skill level James has played with in the first two games of the year has opened up more opportunities for other Rams linebackers. While James gets a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines, other linebackers can get their shot at making a big play.

“Cory, he’s doing a good job out there” junior linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “And when (opponents) pay more attention on Cory, that means I might get a single on my side, or I get a double and Cory gets a single. So (if) we both get one-on-one, we expect to beat the single teams so somebody should always be back there (in the opponents’ backfield).”

The Rams did an excellent job getting into the backfield in their season-opener against CU-Boulder. CSU recorded 5 sacks and 4 quarterback hurries against CU’s Jordan Webb, but only recorded one sack against North Dakota State and junior quarterback Brock Jensen.

Pressuring the opposition’s quarterback and taking advantage of the amount of talent they have with their linebackers will likely be a crucial development for the Rams throughout the remainder of the season.

“That’s something we’ve gotta get back to,” Skelton said. “I think we played fairly well against CU with the pass rush and stuff, so I think that’s something we’ll get back to and get a little urgency in our guys to get to (the quarterback).”

Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at sports@collegian.com.