Surprises at LB this spring, says Sears

THE LINEBACKER CORPS produced not one but two pleasant surprises this spring, says co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears, plus the players atop the depth chart all had solid showings. And this was without one of the Cougs' best linebackers, Louis Bland, participating. So what's the latest on Bland, and which 'backer was tabbed by Sears as the biggest spring surprise on the entire defense?

Louis Bland, as has been oft-mentioned on CF.C this offseason, is scheduled to be full-go on July 1, and Sears says that remains the target date.

With a solid overall performance turned in by the linebacker corps this spring, could the Cougs potentially redshirt Bland? That knee has been slow to heal, he's lost about 20 pounds having been limited in what he could do workout-wise and although expected to be 100 percent on July 1, might the depth now in the fold allow the Cougs to give him a whole year to heal up more and get stronger?

"We really haven't thought about it that much," said Sears. "We're going ahead with the thought he's going to be getting ready this summer and then we'd get into fall camp and turn him loose.

"We do have some good young kids (redshirt freshmen) coming in with (Andre) Barrington, Arthur Burns and (Darren) Markle. And our focus this spring was hey, you guys are playing now, so let's get ready. But that didn't have anything to do with Louis being out this spring."

THE STARTERS ATOP the pre-spring depth chart -- SLB Myron Beck, MLB Mike Ledgerwood and WIL Alex Hoffman-Ellis -- did nothing to diminish their status, though the depth behind them is coming along nicely, said Sears.

"Myron Beck had a good spring but now he has to have a good summer, they all do. I'd say Ledgerwood, Hoffman-Ellis also had good springs. Alex was having a really good spring but then he got nicked up (ankle) but he was going really good."

THERE WAS A surprising middle 'backer challenger this spring in the form of Hallston Higgins, a senior-to-be who had never seriously threatened to crack the starting line-up during his WSU career -- until now.

With Hoffman-Ellis out injured the latter half of spring, Ledgerwood slid over to his WIL spot and Higgins played the MIK -- so they weren't playing the same position and battling it out, per se. But Higgins certainly turned some heads in spring drills.

"Outstanding!" said Sears when asked about Higgins play. "We were extremely happy and really proud of the work Hallston has put in, it absolutely showed up this spring. He is a completely different player -- he's lighter, faster and putting himself into position to make a lot of plays out there. Watching him move around now, he can get after it.

"'Ol Hallsy can run a little bit now. And I'll tell you what, he will hit you."

AS BIG AN improvement as was shown by Higgins, Sears picked another player as his biggest spring surprise on defense -- and it was another linebacker.

"Arthur Burns. He brought a lot of speed and playmaking to the defense," said Sears.

How so?

"He embraced the opportunity on defense. Watching him make plays and run around -- and then there were times he would be out of position and get back into position and make plays because he's just so darned fast. And it was like, 'Yes!' -- that's the kind of speed we need."

WITH A NUMBER of young linebackers like Markle, Burns and Barrington showing good things this spring, how do the Cougs plan on getting them all reps and maximizing the crimson performance on Saturdays? Will they play a lot? Sears wouldn't get into specifics, but he did indicate it might be a lonely bench.

"Well, they're going to have to get on the field -- they're our depth," said Sears. "Whether we rotate them, whether they're starters, the offseason and the work they put in will dictate that. All of those redshirt freshmen, at linebacker and at the other positions, we coached them as hard as we possibly could in order to get them ready for the fall.

"And I didn't see a single one of them blink."

Cougfan Top Stories