JHoo’s Summer Reading ’08: Linebackers

Notice: Only variables should be passed by reference in /data/www/sportswar.com/wp-content/plugins/sportswar-core/amember/amember.php on line 125
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit

In 2008, just as in every other year during Al Groh’s tenure at Virginia, the linebackers will be a focal point of the defense. That became even more true after some offseason attrition left the defensive line and defensive backfield with holes in need of filling. But while there are few questions – really, only one – about who will start at linebacker in 2008, that does not mean that there are not questions that the unit must answer as a whole, particularly in terms of how the linebackers will fit with the rest of the defense. Put another way, the parts looks good at linebacker, but what will the sum of those parts be?

The Starters

Entering the fall, three of the four starting linebacker slots essentially are set in stone, with fourth years Clint Sintim , Antonio Appleby , and Jon Copper all returning for another year.

Jon Copper led last year’s defense in total tackles, solo tackles, and assists.

For me, the discussion starts with Jon Copper, a player who in his early years in the program was always at the end of the linebacker discussion. This changed placement parallels how Copper’s importance to the defense has changed, as Copper may not be irreplaceable per se but he certainly now has a cornerstone role in the defense. That may be a surprising thing to say about a player like Copper who is somewhat limited physically. But he makes up for a lot of those limitations with smarts and effort, traits that are evident long before the first snap of the game. For example, Copper is in the film room to a Spielbergian level and going into each week’s game, he knows what he is going to see from an opponent across the field as well as any player on the team. Combine that with a good understanding of his own defense, good instincts, and very good reads and Copper plays the game at least a step or two faster than his speed would seem to indicate is possible.

Speed admittedly is not a strength of Copper’s but strength