Let's start off with the coaching changes – in are newly anointed LB coaches Jay Hood and Deion Melvin. Hood, a former Defensive Coordinator at Miami, is one of the Midwest's top assistants and helped the RedHawks to consistently be one of, if not the best, defenses in the Mid-American Conference year in and year out. When Miami's Head Coach Shane Montgomery lost his job this past season, it opened the doors for Ball State to bring on Hood.
Melvin, who has been assisting at Bowling Green the past few seasons, also comes in with a great resume. Melvin was the LBs coach at one of the top FCS programs in Georgia Southern and he has coached his fare share of All-American's at that level. Look for the injection of new coaching talent to play a significant role in how the Cardinals LB corps play this season.
To add even more change to the mix, the lone starter back from last season – MIKE LB Davyd Jones – has been moved to the WILL position this spring where he is penciled in as starter. Jones filled in admirably at the MIKE despite being smaller than most at the position at 6-0 and just barely over 200. This season, Davyd, a Muncie Central product, has packed on 10 extra pounds and has moved to a position that will be less of a ware and tear on his frame. Jones has good speed and is good in pass coverage, so the move should pay dividends for Ball State.
Also back at the WILL position is So. Lorren Womack. Lorren has plenty of skills and athletically, is a specimen. But to this point, Lorren hasn't been able to translate his immense talent onto the football field. At 6-0 220, Lorren is one of the larger LBs in the program, but he is also one of the fastest. Look for Lorren to increase playing time this year in a platoon with Jones and work his way into being one of the better LBs in the Ball State LB corps.
Adding to the mix at WILL will be freshman Theon Dixon, who will come in from Glenville in Cleveland with a wealth of talent. Dixon is slightly undersized at 5-11 195, but a year in the Cardinal weight program will pay dividends and Dixon should become a fixture on the defense in the future. Also returning are LBs Dane Cook and Dee Lett. Cook, a 6-0 200 product of Delta High School outside of Muncie, made the move from S last season and has good speed. He needs to increase his size this spring in order to help out at this position. Lett, a 5-11 210 So., was a dynamite pass rusher in high school that has yet to find his true position in college.
At the MIKE, there should be some good competition between experienced Sr. Spain Cosby and true Fr. Travis Freeman. Cosby, who has played a lot despite being a backup for the past 3 seasons, is a solidly built 5-11 225 and athletic LB. Not the fastest guy on the field, Cosby makes up for his lack of overall speed with tenacious play and a hard hitting approach. Freeman, the gem of the 2009 recruiting class, might end up being the starter here though. Freeman, another Glenville product, comes in at 6-1 212 and has the speed and instincts to step right in and play a difficult position as a true freshman.
Also back at MIKE are Jr. John Buckingham, Fr. Justin Cruz and So. Walk-One Bill Huntsinger. Buckingham has been in the program for over 3 years now and has seen time at DE, RUSH and now MIKE. He is a good sized kid at 6-1 220, but he will probably serve mostly as a spot player and special teams kid. Cruz, who signed on in the fall, is a 5-11 200 freshman with good physical tools and a nose for the ball. He was a MIKE in high school, but a change in position might happen if the competition is hard at MIKE.
At the SAM position, anything can happen. Currently penciled in as starter in spring is 5th year walk-on Sam Woodworth. Sam played WILL last season and saw plenty of time in the Cardinals nickel packages and in relief of Haines. Sam has been a stalwart the past few seasons with his ability to make plays and throw his relatively small frame (6-2 206) around the field.
Also back at SAM is 6-4 218 So. Ryan Hartke. Hartke, who took sometime getting bigger and stronger as well as learning his new position after spending most of his prep career as a WR and part time LB, should factor in to the mix this season. Hartke is a rangy athlete that has finally put on the weight to be strong at the point of attack at the SAM spot.
Finally, Tony Martin, a 6-1 210 Fr., will also factor in. Martin, a S in high school, has a learning curve, but his solid frame and great athleticism means keeping him off the field for too long will be difficult. Martin should excel in coverage situations and has the instincts and size to handle the running game from his spot.
There is much up in the air at the LB position as Ball State enters spring practice. With new faces factoring in a great deal and players jumping from one slot to another, there is really no telling on exactly who will start until things shake out and young men get into practice in the fall. Whoever starts or plays, the product should be fun to watch.