Coach: Linebacker Should be a Strength

BURLINGTON, N.C. -- East Davidson High School head football coach Bryan Lingerfelt will have some tough decisions to make when it's time to select the 2008 North Carolina Shrine Bowl team.

There are only 44 spots on North Carolina's 2008 roster. In a state that normally produces roughly 50 Division I-A signees every year, several high-major prospects will not make the team. High school film and combines play a vital role in the decision-making process. After hosting over 900 prospects at three different combines, the Shrine Bowl coaching staff invited a select number of players to attend an invite-only combine held at Burlington (NC) Williams High School.

Coach Lingerfelt, who will be the linebackers coach for the 2008 squad, has his hands full when it comes to deciding which players to pick at his position.

"We're running a base 3-4 defense, so we're looking at probably taking eight guys," stated coach Lingerfelt. "That would give us a solid two-deep at linebacker. I hate I have to pick this because all 20 guys I've had really look good.

"I think we are strong here. They are very respectful young men and work hard. I just hate that some of them aren't going to make the team."

How deep is linebacker in the state of North Carolina this season? With summer camps about to begin, five in-state linebackers have already verbaled to various college programs and a few others have high-major offers.

Because linebacker is one of the more critical positions in a 3-4 alignment, coach Lingerfelt is looking for players who can impact in a variety of ways. The inside linebackers must be able to run sideline-to-sideline and fill rushing gaps on running plays. The outside linebackers need to have the quickness to cover in space while also being explosive and strong enough to bring pressure off the edge. Because the numbers are limited, those players who are versatile enough to play inside or outside are ideally what you're looking for.

"To be honest, we're looking at guys who can do it all," said Lingerfelt. "We want guys who can cover, rush the passer, and stuff the run. That is one good thing about the film. The combines allow you to measure their measurables and watch them in drills, but if I see a guy on film who shows he can do a lot of it all, that helps his stock.

Ricky Dowdy

"I'm sure that's what everybody looks for on every level... but it is guys like Ricky Dowdy. Those are the types of guys you look for. When I watched his film, it looked like they had him at outside linebacker, down as a defensive end, out on the corner... he can play about anywhere. He's that hybrid-type you're looking for."

Dowdy, a 6-foot-2, 223-pounder from High Point (NC) Central High School, registered an impressive 74 tackles, 13 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss en route to all-conference honors as a junior. Physically, Dowdy has the potential to add considerable size to his frame which means he could ultimately project at defensive end down the road. However, on film, Dowdy is a player that plays extremely well out in space. With his long strides, he doesn't appear to be moving that fast until you notice that no one seems to be able to get away from him.

He has already verbaled to NC State and impressed at the invite-only combine.

"Ricky looked really good," Lingerfelt stated. "He has good hip level and he opens his hips real well. He has quick feet, and he stays low. He reacts to the ball really well.

"He has good quickness, and Ricky plays a lot of different styles. He can play in different areas for you. There's a good possibility [he makes the Shrine Bowl team]... he's got a real good shot at it."

Another linebacker who stood out during drills was Rockingham (NC) Richmond County's Justin Jackson. Slightly undersized at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Jackson is explosive and has the speed and quickness to excel as an outside linebacker. The recent Wake Forest commitment appears to also have a good shot at making the team.

"With Justin Jackson, you can tell he's experienced at linebacker because he has patient feet and can explode when he needs to explode," said coach Lingerfelt. "He has really good movement and hip level. He's been well-coached and looks like he's really smart. I've been very impressed with him too."

Jackson and Dixon aren't the only two linebackers who stood out, as North Carolina commitment Justin Dixon also left an impression. The 6'1, 228-pounder from Smithfield-Selma High School is physically probably the most developed rising senior in the state, and he should fit in perfectly as a middle linebacker where he can run sideline-to-sideline and clog up the middle.

"Justin Dixon looks good," coach Lingerfelt said. "He plays hard. I like his attitude, and he shows some leadership. He has quick feet. He needs to work a little bit on being patient and trusting his skills because he can do it. He's an explosive kid. In talking with him, it sounds like he's going to play inside linebacker this year for his team, and I think that's a good fit for him."

Justin Dixon

Joining the trio as potential Shrine Bowl invitees include Fayetteville Seventy-First's Lamar McLendon, an East Carolina verbal, and Charlotte Catholic's Tucker Windle, who has already committed to the University of Virginia. McLendon performed well during drills and has a legit shot at making the team. Windle missed the combine after suffering a hamstring injury, but he still attended and watched from the sidelines.

When you add in other solid prep linebackers such as Chapel Hill's Steve Moore, Hibretin's Quin Smith, and West Montgomery's Drew Swan, coach Lingerfelt had plenty of talent to work with at the combine. That doesn't include Butler's Hawatha Bell, a player who holds nearly a dozen offers but was unable to attend last weekend's workout.

North Carolina lost the 2007 Shrine Bowl to South Carolina, and under the direction of head coach Gary Fowler, the Tar Heels will be looking to bounce back. Over the years, the team who received the best play out of its linebacker position generally came out on top, as the linebackers are given a lot of freedom to run around and make plays throughout the course of the game.

"We told them when we were working out that our linebacker positions are important," said Lingerfelt. "In our scheme, those guys should be our playmakers."

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