AURORA – To Sycamore football coach Joe Ryan, one thing really stands out with each of his returning linebackers.
There’s junior Brett Weaver, who Ryan describes as the physical player on the inside. On the outside, the Spartans will have senior Jack Dargis, the leader of the group, with fellow senior Logan Schneider, a player Dargis calls possibly the fastest linebacker in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference.
Sycamore (7-4 in 2012) loses only two starters from its defense – defensive tackles Jake Davis and John Beaudoin – and the linebacking corps certainly figures to be a strength with all three starters back.
“They work really well together,” Ryan said before the Spartans’ 7-on-7 competition at Aurora Christian on Wednesday evening. “They kind of play off each other’s strengths, and play off each other’s weaknesses, too.”
Defending the pass is something that can be tough to grasp for high school linebackers, who are used to stopping run after run after run. However, with Kaneland and Lincoln-Way West on Sycamore’s schedule, being able to handle an opponent’s passing game is a must.
It’s something where having speedy linebackers is certainly a plus.
“I think the thing that really sets us apart from the linebackers in our conference and the teams we play is our speed. A lot of the linebackers we play are big, bulky kids, and they can’t really move that well,” Dargis said. “I think one of the strengths is we’re all pretty fast and we’re really athletic, so that really helps our defense, and we have a lot of people returning.”
In 7-on-7 events such as Aurora Christian’s, Ryan said the Spartans work on where they’re going to be in pass coverage and getting into their drop zones.
“It’s good to do it here,” Ryan said. “If they get beat here, it’s not going to cost us a win. It’s a good teaching point.”
Weaver points out that the group is physical enough to be a good run-stuffing team as well. As a sophomore last season, he was a Daily Chronicle first-team all-area selection.
Ryan said Weaver is looking to be more physical in 2013, something he did as the season went on last year.
“At the beginning of the year, it was all about the game speed, catching up,” Weaver said. “Once I caught on to that, it was more matching the physicality and filling the gaps when I needed to and getting the small things right, which was a big thing.”
Sycamore gave up less than 17 points a game last year. With nine starters returning, there’s a ton of potential for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
But for now, it still is only potential.
“Obviously, we’re excited about [the returning talent], that’s huge,” Ryan said. “It’s better than [saying], ‘We don’t have anybody.’ Everything’s just on paper, too. I guarantee you Lincoln-Way West (Sycamore’s Week 1 opponent) isn’t worried about that stuff.”