Upon hearing the news that Sean Lamkin (pictured right) would be coming back for a 5th year after he re-tore and injured his knee in the Harvard game last year, I think all of the Crusader faithful took a huge sigh of relief. Lamkin was the glue that kept the defense together in 2008, and seeing him go down last year made many cringe. Don't get me wrong, there are many OLB's on this year's team that are exceptional football players, but Lamkin is a definite game-changer. He led the team in tackles in 2008 with 71, and, assuming he remains healthy for the entire year, has a good chance to repeat as the team's leading tackler. Replacing Marcus Rodriguez will be no easy task as he was a reliable and steady linebacker in 2009 who quietly amassed 102 tackles, but I believe Lamkin is poised for the biggest year of his career. From 2003-2006, the leading tackler on the team had at least 94 tackles, and in three of these years the leading tackler (Dan Adams had 115 in 2005 and 109 in 2006) eclipsed the century mark. While Lamkin may not reach the century mark, there is a good reason that he may not: DEPTH. Depth is the main reason the defense has steadily improved with Coach Gilmore at the helm. In his first few seasons as the Crusaders head coach, the lack of depth consistently hurt HC as a game wore on. Now, this is not the case.
On those teams from 2003-2006, the lack of depth kept many of the starters on the field for virtually the entire game. Since then, however, the increased depth at the linebacking position has enabled for the starters to receive "breathers" on certain plays and series. And, with this added depth due to improved talent in the linebacking corps, the defense has progressively improved from year-to-year. One has to look no further than points allowed per game since 2003 to 2009: 39.8 to 33.4 to 23.9 to 21.4 to 24.0 to 25.8 to 23.8. The reduction in points from 2003 to 2005 is absolutely remarkable. Giving up 16 points less a game in just a two year span speaks volumes to the added depth. From 2005-2009, the opponent points average has remained consistently in the low 20s. Now, the challenge is to hold opponents to less than 20 a game.
All of the linebackers who will most likely see most of the playing time this year have valuable varsity experience under their belts, know the intricate defensive system Coach Gilmore has constructed, and are familiar playing with one another. While Lamkin will lead the linebackers, he will be accompanied by inside linebackers Ricky Otis and CJ Martin. Otis and Martin did not begin the 2009 season as starters, but due to injuries throughout the year, they were forced into starting roles and performed beautifully. In the playoff game against Villanova, Martin was the leading tackler with 13, and Otis had 8. Furthermore, although he is not listed as a starter according to the depth chart, Jimmy Thomas will play a major role as a linebacker in 2010. Lamkin's replacement last year, Thomas was one of Holy Cross' biggest surprises on defense as he exploded onto the scene. He had 10 tackles in the aforementioned Villanova playoff game, and had 67 tackles for the year. What makes both Thomas and Lamkin such a dynamic duo is their versatility. Not only can they penetrate the line and make a tackle for a loss (Thomas led the team with 9 tackles for loss last year, and Lamkin was second in 2008 with 6), but their ability to sprint out into the flat and defend against the screen and pitches to the outside is what makes the two such forces. Although Thomas is technically listed as Lamkin's back-up on the depth chart, I would not be surprised to see both on the field at times this season.
As mentioned in a previous post regarding the defensive line, James McLaughlin and David Herman will play the other OLB position. What makes this unit so deep and strong this year, in my mind, are seniors Perry Townsend and Brian Mauthe. If everyone stays healthy, the two may not start this year, but both Townsend and Mauthe know the defensive system as well as any of the linebackers. They have played under the tutelage of Mark McDonough for the past three seasons, and are fully capable of stepping in for Otis or Martin at an instant. When not playing ILB, Townsend and Mauthe are all over the field on Special Teams.
When discussing the offensive line for 2010, I stated that "games are won and lost in the trenches." If this football adage holds true, Holy Cross should feel very comfortable with the "front seven" on this year's squad. How deep both the defensive line and linebackers are will give the opposing run game fits throughout all four quarters. Let me tell you this, I eagerly await for the Holy Cross vs. Colgate game in Hamilton, NY this year. Colgate figures to have the best running game in the league, but HC's defensive front should be up to the task this year.
Kevin Doyle '11