Devil of a Preview: Linebackers

As TDD's seasonal preview turns down the back stretch, it's time to examine the linbacking corps. This is probably one of the deepest positions on the roster aside from tight end. Experience and athleticism will be the Blue Devils' weapon of choice.

Outside linebackers:
This is one of the deepest positions on the entire team. Two-year starting WLB Brendan Dewan returns for his junior season. Dewan is a bit light at 215 pounds, but is one of the strongest players on the team, and has excellent speed. He is almost like another strong safety on the field, which helps against teams that spread the field. Backing up Dewan is junior DeAndre White. Both players have plenty of experience and are almost interchangeable. White is small like Dewan, but is a fierce hitter that can stop the biggest running backs in their tracks.

Manning the "Sam" linebacker position is junior Malcolm Ruff. He made one of Duke's most outstanding plays of last season, returning an interception for a touchdown to wrap up a victory over Georgia Tech. Ruff brings great size to the position, weighing in at 255 lbs, and has good speed to match. His backup, sophomore Alex Williams, is a bit smaller, but has a good nose for the ball and is a quality special teams player. Redshirt freshman Corey Sobel will probably see time at both outside linebacker spots. He is light, but has good speed and is a solid tackler. Freshmen Charles Robinson and Zach Smith are talented, but will need to have great preseason practices to see the field in 2004.

Good News: This will probably be the fastest set of outside linebackers in Duke's history. They all have plus speed for the position, and some like White, Dewan, and Sobel could probably play safety if needed. Ruff has the size of an inside backer with the skills of an outside guy.

Bad News: Other than Ruff, the unit as a whole is very light. Dewan, Williams, White and Sobel are all 215 pounds or less, which is definitely less than an ideal situation. Teams will try and run right at these guys to see if they can take on blockers.

Bottom Line: This position has 4 guys who saw significant action in 2003, and has some promising depth. Dewan and Ruff are ACC caliber starter with lots of game experience. White also has several starts to his credit and plays outside when Duke does to a 3-4 scheme. The speed and flexibility of this unit is a great asset, and will be a bright spot for the Duke defense this season.

Inside linebackers:
The Devils will need to replace 4-year starter and defensive stalwart Ryan Fowler. Senior Guiseppe Aguano gets the nod to try and replace Fowler. Aguano has plenty of experience, having participated in 35 games in his first three seasons. He has good size (240 lbs) and is a good all-around linebacker. He doesn't not stuff the run as well as Fowler, but he is a bit faster.

The primary backup in the middle is sophomore Codey Lowe. Returning after a one-year absence from the program, Lowe brings great instincts and is very technically sound. He is also good in pursuit and will push Aguano for playing time before the season is out. Starting OLB Malcolm Ruff and reserve OLB Alex Williams can also slide into the middle should the situation arise. True freshman Alfred Williams looks impressive in the preseason, but will be hard pressed to crack the regular rotation.

Good News: The Devils have an experienced starter, and a capable backup in Codey Lowe with lots of promise. All of the players can run, which is a big asset.

Bad News: The players on the current roster are somewhat unproved at handling the run-stuffing responsibilities placed on the insider linebacker position. For the past 3 seasons, Ryan Fowler has been taking on blockers and making tackles. Someone in the current group needs to step up and replace the physicality of Fowler. Aguano has played outside for his first 3 seasons at Duke, and Lowehas not taken a college snap. There is inexperience abound here.

Bottom Line: This group has big shoes to fill. For three seasons, this has been a position of strength, now it is a position with a question mark. The players are capable, but they have not yet produced on the field at middle linebacker.

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