UCF Spring Football Review: Linebackers

LB Jordan Richards (Laura Bernstein)

UCF's quarterback competition might have been the most publically discussed position battle for the Knights this spring, but the struggle for playing time amongst linebackers was unquestionably the most fierce and intense.

The Knights return all three starters from a year ago in senior Cory Hogue, junior Chance Henderson and sophomore Derrick Hallman. All three had fantastic springs, but they were not allowed to rest because of the relentless efforts of some of the other linebackers looking to break into the starting lineup.

Coach O'Leary was thrilled with the effort and leadership Hogue provided during spring practice. "I think (Corey) Hogue has had a really great spring, not a good spring, a great spring. Again, I think there is no question, defensively, that is where all the experience is coming back," said O'Leary.

Hogue finished with 72 tackles last season and continued his reputation as a tackling machine during the Spring Game, as he led the team with six tackles. Hogue's one apparent weakness last season was lack of burst in pass coverage, but in passing drills this spring he appeared to have improved his quickness and could be in for a big season.

Henderson also had an excellent spring, capping it off with four tackles in the Spring Game. Henderson, 6'1", 241 lbs, mans the middle for the Knights and made life very difficult on running backs during the spring workouts. The Knights were trying to establish a run game throughout the course of the last three weeks, but Henderson's size and quick first step allowed him to regularly disrupt the offense.

The returning starter with perhaps the most to lose over the spring was Hallman, but he brought passion and effort to every practice and seemed to solidify his spot as a starter. Hallman is undersized at 205 lbs., but he utilized his speed to make countless plays over the spring practices. His most notable performance came in the Spring Game, as Hallman was literally everywhere, logging five tackles, two sacks and an interception.

As mentioned earlier, none of the returning starters could relax through the spring practices because of the extremely strong competition coming from the backups. Sophomore Lawrence Young had a chance to make some noise after totaling 31 tackles last year behind Hogue, but he couldn't make enough impact plays to overcome the experience and tenacity of the Knights senior leader (Hogue).

Junior Jordan Richards also entered spring with plenty of starting experience and could have unseated Hallman, but Hallman's play in scrimmages made it very difficult to surpass him. Richards did display a nice combination of size and speed and should vie for playing time throughout 2008.

One player that coaches had an eye on was freshman Josh Linam, who was grey shirted this past season because of a nagging back injury. Linam was second team All-State in high school and the team expects a lot from him. Early on in spring workouts, Linam appeared tentative at times and wasn't as physical as coaches would have preferred, but he seemed to turn the corner by the end of practice and finished a solid spring game with five tackles and a sack. This performance elevated his status as a playmaker and he should see the field this year as a freshman.

Other players who made a splash were junior Alex Thompson and sophomore Jay McCahill. Thompson had nine tackles against N.C State last year when Henderson was out, and should be a very reliable backup to Henderson through '08. McCahill, a transfer from Western Michigan, seemed to get coaches' attention and was regularly willing to step up in drills and do whatever was asked of him. This willingness to help out in any way possible could pay dividends for the sophomore.

The depth for UCF's linebackers this spring was uncanny and it could be the deepest group the school has ever seen. There are at least seven players who could start for many other teams in the conference, and this will certainly benefit the Knights as they embark on a grueling schedule in 2008. The competition will likely keep all players playing at a high level through the spring, and if the tremendous play of every backer in the spring is any indication, '08 should be a stellar year for the Knights' defense.

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