Although the Akron Zips lost two significant players - Kurt Mangum and Troy Gilmer – from its linebackers corps from last season, there’s reason to hope that overall it may be a position of strength for the team.
Currently, juniors Justin March and Nick Rossi along with sophomore Jatavis Brown are working out with the first team in the first week of spring practice.
If coach Terry Bowden is concerned about those players and their reserves, he’s not showing it.
“I do believe we're much more talented across the board, much more athletic,” he said after Friday’s practice.
And with that talent comes expectations, associate head coach and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato said. Two things hit the top of his list as far as what he wants from them – leadership and the ability to make plays.
Bowden said there is one glaring weakness.
“We lack that experience so we have to practice and get better every day,” he said. “I do believe in the top six or seven guys here we have much more talent than we opened up with last spring.”
And more talent could be on the way. On National Signing Day the Zips signed C.J. Mizell, a well-traveled middle linebacker from Florida who was dismissed from the Washington State Cougars and is currently earning his two-year degree so that he can join the team for fall practice.
In the meantime, players such as Rossi, who Bowden calls a high motor individual, get the chance to make a lasting impression.
A surprise will greet those familiar with the Zips starting defensive line from last season. Last year’s starter – before going down with an injury – senior defensive end Albert Presley isn’t currently working out with the first unit. In his place is Copley native Connor Seeman, a senior.
Bowden said that Seeman worked hard to get from roster holder to backup and is now considered someone who can help the team in the defensive line rotation.
“If Albert Presley could give us the effort and day-to-day consistency with his effort that Seeman has, then Albert would be a much better football player,” Bowden said.
“Presley in the off-season program wasn't up to our expectations and Seeman?” he said. “He does pretty doggone good.”
It doesn’t sound as if the disappointment is limited to Presley.
“Some of the players are practicing pretty hard, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the lack of effort in our off-season program,” Bowden said. “ They like to play football on Saturdays but they don't like to prepare to play football.”
Amato offered a bit of advice for the team.
“Nobody has a position earned. They have to earn it. It's not going to be given to them,” he said. “ If they think it is, they're crazy. If we get everyone here signed and eligible, we could have a pretty good looking defensive front seven.”
Alfonso Horner (right end)
Cody Grice (noseguard)
Nico Caponi (defensive tackle)
Connor Seeman (left end)
Jatavis Brown (right outside backer)
Nick Rossi (middle linebacker)
Justin March (left outside backer)
Malachi Freeman (defensive back)
Anthony Holmes (defensive back)
James Turner (defensive back)
Seth Cunningham (defensive back)
Observations: The defense still looks to be ahead of the offense in most areas. At this point of practice, that’s to be expected. That included one spectacular tackle where three defenders converged on a ball carrier simultaneously.
Quick note: Saturday’s practice at Stile Athletics Field House will include a half scrimmage which is open to the public. It will run from 9 a.m. to noon.