(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Last season, Antonio Longino filled a void that had been empty since Carl Bradford’s departure in 2013.
Longino’s act at the Devilbacker position will be tough to follow – he finished with 64 tackles, 22.5 of which were for loss, and 11.5 sacks in 2015 (both team highs). Outside linebacker coach Shawn Slocum is now tasked with the enormous challenge in replacing the most dynamic position on the defensive line yet again.
The Devilbacker is a hybrid of sorts — a linebacker playing on the line of scrimmage in a three-point stance who may draw the assignment of rushing the quarterback or dropping into coverage.
“The way we’re set up schematically, that position has a chance to affect the game on the perimeter of the offense,” Slocum said. “You need a guy who’s got the skillset who can do that.”
During fall camp, sophomore Joseph Wicker alternated between Devilbacker and his native defensive end position. He compiled 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks as a true freshman playing the edge in 2015.
“They just wanted to see me at the position and see how well I would do at it,” Wicker said. “They just felt like it was a good fit, you know, just seeing things. It’s not that much of a different position anyway. I’m switching, I’m doing both [Devilbacker and defensive end].”
While the Devilbacker and the defensive end both line up at each end of the defensive line, Wicker feels as though the new position comes with fewer limits, giving him the freedom to become a multi-faceted player.
“You can stand up, you can blitz from different angles, it’s just a different technique,” Wicker said. “When I was [playing Devilbacker] I had my hand down, so it wasn’t that much of a difference. The only difference is when we did pass stuff like nickel.”
To maximize his contributions, Wicker will move around on the defensive line, alternating between Devilbacker and defensive end.
“JoJo’s a good football player. Wherever he plays he’s going to be impactful,” Slocum said. “That’s one of the reasons why we have the ability to move him around, play different positions.”
At this point, Slocum is looking at all of his options to play Devilbacker and has gotten looks at various players in the role.
“Everybody we work,” Slocum said. “We’ve got A.J. Latu, we’ve got Koron Crump, we’ve got JoJo Wicker, we’ve got Malik Lawal. We’ve got some guys who can rush the passer.”
Wicker played alongside Longino last season, giving him the opportunity to witness the position played at a high level.
“He played it well, very well,” Wicker said. “He played it with confidence, he was a dynamic pass rusher for us last year and he just went all out with how he played.”
With the expectations Wicker has set for himself, he expects to pick up where Longino left off when he’s playing the position, whether that comes with a platoon or not.
“[My expectations are] to dominate every play,” Wicker said. “That’s definitely one of the goals that I have.”
- Manny Wilkins lead the first team offense in 11-on-0 drills to start practice. Freshman N’Keal Harry got the nod at X receiver alongside Cam Smith and Tim White, who were at the Z and Y spots, respectively.
- Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage were both on the field with the first team. Richard lined up in the back field and Ballage moved up to the line of scrimmage, replacing the tight end as an additional slot receiver.
- Brady White headlined the second team, accompanied by both Ellis Jefferson and Jalen Harvey.
- Freshman Kyle Williams took reps at safety with the practice squad. Coach Todd Graham has praised Williams’ contributions at receiver in recent weeks.
- Today’s first team offensive line featured Evan Goodman, Sam Jones, Stephon McCray, Quinn Bailey and Zach Robertson.