Camp Notes: Linebackers

Linebackers lineup for drills

One unit that the competition is scorching at is linebacker and the veterans were animated, while the rooks just tried to go about their work. Even with the addition of Matt Wilhelm by the San Diego Chargers through the draft, another linebacker will likely be added to the roster to replace the departed Junior Seau. Orlando Ruff also left to join the New Orleans Saints leaving the extra spot available for an undrafted free agent.

I have never seen a linebacker cruise through drills like Jordan Kramer did. The linebacking crew went through sidesteps and then simulated dropping into coverage as well as stopping and changing direction on a dime. Kramer blazed through the drills as if he had someone with a gun chasing him.

Conversely, Greg Cole looked like a bull bucking through the drills, but as bad as he may have looked during drills, it was just individual agility drills and the real barometer is what happens on the field in crunch time.

Matt Wilhelm was not as fluid as I had hoped. He seemed to have trouble keeping his footing and was slipping when trying to change direction quickly. With his big frame it may be wise for him to work a little more feverishly on those drills as they will certainly help him on the field.

The next set of drills really piqued my interest. The tight ends matched up against the linebackers in a drill that had them releasing off the line and move to get past them and get open downfield.

Josh Norman matched up against Ben Leber to start things off and Leber held him up at the line as Norman could not get past him. Tim Brewster, the tight ends coach, was quickly on Norman, yelling and giving instruction on how to make better use of his hands and body to get past any defender.

Antonio Gates then showed his progress by besting Carlos Polk. Gates simply overpowered Polk and got free. Brewster immediately yelled, "That a way Gates."

Justin Peelle drew Jordan Kramer in drills and Peelle was unable to get good separation as Kramer kept him close by and Peelle would have been a non factor had it been a live play. Peelle would come back strong when he squeezed by Polk who slipped as he turned to follow Peelle and Peelle glided into a wide open space taking advantage of the loose footing Polk. Peelle would later make the juke of the day in these particular drills when he faked left to go inside on Leber and then went right. Leber was lost in his shoes and did not take advantage of the drills they practiced earlier of stopping on a dime.

Donnie Edwards got some serious heat from Greg Manusky as Norman took the instruction he got on his first attempt and blew by Edwards.

Gates continued his dominance by beating Leber and again Brewster gave his stamp of approval saying, "That's good, that's good." Gates would beat Kramer a few plays later and this drill seems to be a showcase for his talents. Being a star basketball player, the moves to drive to the basket have seemed to ease him into his role creating separation at the line. In fact Gates was only bested by Edwards who grabbed a little jersey to slow him up at the line. A veteran move if it goes uncalled.

The linebackers then moved on to face the running backs in one on one drills with an assortment of quarterbacks throwing the rock. Linebackers had to follow the back past the line of cones and cover them as they went out into their route. The quarterback threw the ball regardless of what coverage the running back faced.

Joey Goodspeed made a beautiful catch in the right flat but Zeke Moreno stripped the ball as Goodspeed fell down. Heads up play by Moreno, who capitalized on Goodspeed using all his concentration just to make the grab. Moreno never hesitated on going for the ball since Goodspeed was on his way down anyway.

Leber showed some good coverage staying with Antoineo Harris and smacked a ball away from him as Harris closed in on the sidelines. Seth Burford tried to deliver the ball into the tight coverage as instructed.

Andrew Pinnock beat Greg Cole using his body effectively to shield Cole and haul in the catch from Burford.

Dahrran Diedrick had Carlos Polk beat by a step as he moved across the field but the pass from Burford was low and outside.

Nick Maddox then schooled Jude Waddy on a move to the outside. A little out and up and Maddox was clear for a reception.

Matt Wilhelm looked smooth when he slapped a ball out of the air intended for Harris. Harris did not display solid route running as his cuts seemed to take a while to develop.

LaDainian Tomlinson, in one of the few drills he was seen in on the day, ran to the outside and zipped diagonally towards the sidelines. Edwards was tailing him in coverage and as LT turned for the ball cutting it straight to the sidelines, Edwards stayed with him to knock the ball to the ground.

Maddox then blew by Leber and had Leber so lost in coverage he ended the play about 10 yards away. The problem was Burford threw a terrible pass that went out of bounds.

Pinnock came back to marginally push past Moreno and with Moreno sticking tight to him was able to corral the ball. A nice throw from Adamson made that possible as the ball zipped past the body of Moreno and into the hands of Pinnock. Had Moreno stuck a hand out or looked at the quarterback sooner he could have had the ball.

Harris came off the line and quickly turned inside whipping Cole around. Cole stuck out a hand and grabbed a whole lot of jersey to stop the play. Cole saved himself the embarrassment of getting whooped but still got an earful from the coaches.

Pinnock, showing moves despite his size, ran a double juke on Kramer leaving him wide open to catch a strike delivered by Lemon.

Maddox then came back to make a nice move to the outside on Wilhelm but was unable to catch the pass from Lemon. The ball was delivered beautifully and there was nothing between Maddox and a touchdown.

The play of the drill happened last when Stephen Cooper drilled Joey Goodspeed as he came off the line to go into his route. Goodspeed flew back into one of the yellow cones ending any ideas of him running a route. It was a great play by Cooper and well within the five yards. Still Cooper got a talking to from his coaches. Maybe it was praise or it could have been the coaches wanted the backs to run out and not get crushed.

Overall the linebackers did well on the day. This is just a small sampling of some of the one-on-one and individual drills from both sessions. They still made plays in the 11 on 11 drills and in other various places on the field.

The best linebackers of the day went to Leber versus the run and Cooper versus the pass. Wilhelm seemed a bit tentative on the day and Edwards proved vets can get yelled at as much as rookies. With it being so early, the battle for the last spot has just begun. It should be a fun one to watch.

A few of the linebackers were missing from various drills but we will see them in the coming days as they were in many other drills along the way and made nice impressions (LaMarcus McDonald).

More to come…

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net or via the following link: Denis Savage

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