(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)

Entering the season, one of the few positions that was left somewhat unaffected by turnover was the middle of the linebacker core.

Returning were the likes of Salamo Fiso, Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun, a group that combined for 223 tackles and 15.5 sacks last season, not to mention a supplemental duo of Marcus Ball and Carlos Mendoza for coach Sean Slocum to plug and play where he saw fit.

However, when Sam and Fiso were out early in the season due to an injury and a suspension respectively, Calhoun and Mendoza were called upon and performed at a high level. Couple their production with the addition of Koron Crump and A.J. Latu’s rise at the Devilbacker position, and it looks as though the team’s deepest pool of talent is at the linebacker position.

Still, with Sam’s return to the field expected in the coming weeks, Slocum doesn’t foresee any problems arising as far as playing time is concerned.

“It just makes us not have to play a guy every play,” he said. “It gives us more multiplicity and ability to do some other things.”

With the diverse skill sets of the crop of linebackers, Slocum should be able to slot different players in those different positions depending on the situations in the game.

At this point, it looks as though Latu and Crump having comprised a platoon at the Devilbacker position, with Crump taking over as a pass rushing specialist and Latu playing in early down situations.

So far this season, Crump has totaled four sacks, two of which coming in last week’s 51-41 win over California-Berkeley.

“I thought I’d be at six sacks by now,” Crump said. “But you know, everything don’t happen how you plan. I hate being one step away.”

Against Cal, Fiso made his return from suspension and saw his first live action of the season.

According to Slocum, Fiso made his biggest contribution with his energy and his knack for passing along plays and various reads to those around him.

His nine tackles and the game-altering interception of Davis Webb late in the fourth quarter didn’t hurt either.

“He provides a crutch for a lot of other defensive players to lean on just through communication,” Slocum said.

With Fiso back and Sam still out, Calhoun and Mendoza will be expected to continue filling that void at the inside linebacker position.

A position that Slocum admits both guys have worked themselves into.

“They’re both committed, experienced players that know their role well on this team and help us in a number of areas,” Slocum said. “They had great off-seasons. They were tremendous in the weight room and in their preseason training.”

Practice Notes

  • Vi Latu was limited throughout practice, while Christian Sam was working on Muscle Beach
  • The starting offensive line consisted of Evan Goodman, Sam Jones, A.J. McCollum, Stephon McCray and Quinn Bailey. Although Zach Robertson started against Cal, it seems as though this is Todd Graham’s starting group moving forward.
  • Kalen Ballage was held out of 11-on-0, with Nick Ralston taking his place in the backfield alongside Manny Wilkins. Should Ballage be limited, Ralston could see some extra snaps against USC.

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