August 1, 2008

Linebacker a strength at KSU

Linebackers are supposed to be mean guys, focused beyond all reason. They are supposed to be guys that you wouldn't want to leave your grandmother alone with. Although it's not certain that the Kent State linebackers are mean guys that I wouldn't want around my grandma Lois, they are focused, and they may just be the "guys" that make Kent State a great team.

The Mid-American Conference Media Day on Tuesday featured two Kent State players, including Eugene Jarvis. The junior had an amazing season in 2007, leading the MAC in rushing. He was a "hot commodity" on the interview table.

The other player was linebacker Derek Burrell; he is supposedly one of those "mean guys."

The fifth-year senior had a breakout year in 2007. If you ask Kent State defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis, he'll say that Burrell was wronged by being picked All-MAC Third Team. Burrell had 119 tackles, the most on the team and the most in the linebacking corps.

Burrell sat during the media day, waiting for someone to ask him question. The only questions that came his way were from the usual Kent State media types, the others, such as the Associated Press' reporter, only talked to Jarvis. But one of the first direct questions to Burrell came when he was asked about playing more man defense. Kent State coach Doug Martin had alluded to playing more man coverage in the spring, and Burrell's eyes lit up when he responded in about three seconds.

"Crossing routes," he said. "Catch crossing routes and hurt."

The perfect response to the question: hurt. As in hurt the poor soul who goes across the middle against the linebacking corps that is "as good as anyone since I've been here" according to Martin.

The lineup features two seniors, Burrell and Stevon Moss, a junior, Cedrick Maxwell and Michigan transfer sophomore Cobrani Mixon. The depth of the unit allows for most of the special teams to be primarily linebackers.

"Derek Burrell is an all-conference player coming back, and had a great year last year," Martin said. "Stevon Moss has played a lot of football here, Cedrick Maxwell has played a lot of football here. Dorian Wood is coming back from an ACL injury, and played as a freshman last year, and Cobrani Mixon gets thrown in there also. That's a good group, that's very athletic group."

Mixon is the wild card. The former Cincinnati Colerain high school standout went to Michigan, but transferred shortly after. A teammate of starting free safety Brian Lainhart at Colerain, Mixon found a home at Kent State and has already made a splash. Football "expert" Phil Steele, a speaker at the MAC News Media Association's annual meeting Monday night, has already named the linebacker pre-season honorable mention all-MAC.

Now that may not seem like such a big deal, but let's remember that Mixon has never played in a game yet, let a lone a MAC game. The quick and athletic middle linebacker claimed Burrell's respect in the spring, as Burrell called him the best defensive player on the team. But Martin just laughs at the preseason hype.

"(He's) not that good, "Martin said with a smile. "I haven't seen that or anybody be (touted) that hasn't played a game yet. Cobrani has looked pretty good in practice, but you know he still has to go out and play in the game. And it's been a while since he's played in a game… the positive is that he has really good people around him… he doesn't have to dominate a game, he just has to play his responsibility."

The linebacking corps is arguably one of the best groups in Kent State history and that's saying a lot when one of the program's former linebackers is Jack Lambert.

But is this group full of stereotypical scary linebackers? Burrell didn't look the part in his pin-striped suit, but by the time he puts his other work clothes on for the Boston College game, we'll know just how cozy scary this unit can be.

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