Sept. 2, 2011
WASHINGTON - On paper, a strong case could be made that no other unit on the Georgetown University football team was as hard hit by graduation as the team's linebacking corps. Gone is the program's all-time leading tackler Nick Parrish, three-year starter Patrick O'Donnell and Paul Sant'Ambrogio, who had a strong senior season, finishing among the Patriot League leaders in interceptions.
Despite the losses, the Hoyas may not be as hard hit as opponents around the league might imagine. Moving inside for the 2011 season will be last year's starting outside linebackers, juniors Robert McCabe (Newtown Square, Pa./Malvern Prep) and Jeremy Grasso (Washington Township, N.J./Bergen Catholic). Both played middle linebacker in high school and are primed for a move back to their natural positions, a move that has drawn positive reviews from the coaching staff.
"(McCabe and Grasso) are going to have, in my opinion, breakout years," Head Coach Kevin Kelly said. "I think Rob, has gotten some publicity coming into his junior year, but I think you're going to see both of those guys making plays for us and people will know who they are by the end of the year."
McCabe proved to be a playmaker during his sophomore season, finishing 2010 among the Patriot League leaders with 84 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, one sack and two interceptions. His performance earned him a spot on Phil Steele's Preseason All Patriot League Second Team.
"Rob is a very intelligent football player, the game slows down for him and he's got a good feel for it," Kelly said. "He's gotten a lot of playing time for us starting his freshman year."
Grasso also had strong numbers in 2010, while starting 10 games at outside linebacker, making 43 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and one sack.
"We feel both of them are playmakers and the inside linebacker position you need guys that can run and guys that can make plays," Kelly said. "Both of those guys can do that."
Occupying Grasso's former role at the SAM outside linebacker will be a pair of sophomores Jonathan Brucia (Westfield, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) and Sean Campbell (Red Bank, N.J./Middletown South). Both saw action during their freshmen season, with Brucia earning a start toward the end of season. The coaching staff is excited with the possibilities that their varying skill sets give them on game days.
"John is more of a drop type of linebacker, more of a finesse and speed guy," Kelly said. "He's athletic, he played a high level lacrosse in high school. Sean is more of the bruiser type outside linebacker. Very tough, runs well, plays extremely hard, so we have two different types of outside linebackers. The thing we like to do depending on who we're playing, matchup wise, one week one guy might play more than the other depending on the opponent."
At the Buck outside linebacker, Georgetown will look for a pair of players transitioning from safety to linebacker with senior Kyle Miller (Plano, Texas/Dallas Jesuit) and sophomore Dustin Wharton (LaVale, Md./Allegany) filling the roles. Coach Kelly believes that for that the training at safety that Miller and Wharton have gone through should help them in their ability to play in their new role.
"The coverage piece is tied into what they do at safety, so they understand the big picture and they understand what they have to do," Kelly said. "Dustin is just a sophomore and Kyle has been around and played a lot of football, but it has not been a hard transition for either of them."
Beyond the starters, Georgetown will boast depth across the four linebacker positions. Behind McCabe and Grasso, the Hoyas will have senior Nate Zimmel (Allentown, Pa./Parkland) and sophomore Shanon Adams (Carrollton, Texas/Plano West). Zimmel has seen plenty of snaps at middle linebacker and been a key on special teams throughout his Georgetown career, while Adams has shown development from his freshman season.
"There was a whole lot of experience last year with Nick, POD and Pauly," Zimmel said. "Most of those guys had played for four years, but luckily we were deep at the position and had the opportunity to learn a lot from those guys, so we'll be young, but we will have some experience."
Several freshman will also be in the mix for playing time after stepping forward during training camp.
"We have a few freshman that are going to help us," Kelly said. "At the SAM linebacker, Nick Alfieri has had a terrific camp and he's in a backup role right now. Alec May is making a push at the buck position."
The one area the young group of linebackers will need to fill will be the leadership provided by the graduating seniors, but Kelly believes the group has what it takes to lead.
"McCabe and Grasso are not real vocal guys, but by example they have been leaders," Kelly said. "Nate Zimmel has also stepped into that role. I think the guys really respect Nate and what he stands for. He is Mr. Steady. He's our elder statesmen in there and he does a variety of things for us on special teams."
The amount of depth GU will feature at linebacker has taken what could have been perceived as a weakness into what could very well be a strength of the team by season's end.
"On paper it looks like a scary position that we have to fill," Kelly said. "But I feel really good about who we have across the board at this time."