Position-by-Position Breakdowns: Linebackers
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 00:08
Lee Skinner is one of those players who seems like he has been around forever – and he’s still only a junior.
After redshirting his freshman year in 2010, he started every game as a redshirt freshman and finished second on the team with 80 tackles. He followed that season up with another tremendous campaign in 2012, again finishing second on the team in tackles (89).
Skinner, who has a nose for the football and seems to be involved in every play, is one of the finest linebackers in the Mid-American Conference – and yet he doesn’t get much attention because of a linebacking mate by the name of Khalil Mack. But there are no ill feelings there; in fact, Skinner considers himself fortunate.
“It’s an honor to play with [Mack],” Skinner said. “Whenever you have a player that good, it really brings other people’s levels even higher. He’s just such a good player that you really have to change up what you do and it really makes you look at the game a different way.”
One way he is looking at the game differently is in the film room, which is where he said he progressed the most – studying his team’s defensive scheme on film – this summer.
Skinner is one of the team’s comedians, and a blonde mullet evidences his lighthearted attitude. Considering his propensity for cracking jokes, and coupling that with his impressive statistics, Skinner’s goal for the season should come as no surprise.
“Just to have fun, to be honest with you,” he said. “I wouldn’t be playing this game if I didn’t have fun. I think everybody is on the same exact page when I say that ‘cause in having fun, we want to win games, and it’s not fun if you don’t win games. So I think everybody is committed to winning as many games as we can and having as much fun as we can on the field together.”
The team’s ability to win those games and have fun could directly hinge on how well its tackling machine, Stockman, can perform given the double- and triple-teams expected to come Mack’s way.
Adam Redden is a safety, but you wouldn’t guess that by watching his positioning on the field. He lines up most frequently at outside linebacker and sometimes at cornerback.
Defensive coordinator Lou Tepper moves him around to take advantage of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior’s versatility.
“It’s crazy because my real position is a down safety but I play corner in some plays, I play outside linebacker some plays, even Mike in some plays,” Redden said. “I am a safety but I play everywhere, basically.”
He said he has confidence in this year’s defense and feels comfortable in his position because he is surrounded by seniors Khalil Mack and Okoye Houston with Najja Johnson and Cortney Lester backing him up.
“I actually feel like I’m in a complete defense,” Redden said.
The graduate of local St. Francis High School had 27 tackles last year, including two for loss, two pass break-ups and one interception. He said he focused on general improvement in the offseason – and on bettering his attitude.
“I improved the most in everything,” Redden said. “Man coverage, technique, even learning the playbook more. And then being able to take criticism and work off it.”
Jake Stockman was the practice squad MVP in 2011. The next year? Different story.
Stockman still made major contributions, but he made them on the field in game situations. The junior linebacker started five games and appeared in all 12 as he split time with graduated senior Scott Pettigrew. Stockman finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles. He also had four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
“We’ve got really big defensive goals this year when it comes to rushing yards per game, points per game, what we want to do to teams,” Stockman said. “I think we’re getting closer – we’re not there, but we’re definitely getting closer to it.”
Stockman spent much of his summer conditioning with strength coach Zach Duval.
“They really wanted me to be able to lean down and be able to come down off the edge like Khalil [Mack] does – well, maybe not like Khalil does, but you know, the idea,” Stockman said. “So that was a big emphasis this year. I think with coach Duval, we got that accomplished.”
Stockman considers himself lucky to be mentored by a legendary defensive coordinator in Lou Tepper, who has been coaching since 1967 and has written two books on linebacking.
“It’s actually as great and detailed as a coach as he is, it’s a very comfortable but serious situation, which is awesome,” Stockman said. “We’re very laidback in the linebacking room, very comfortable. He’s great at coaching. He knows how to coach different players in different ways, and I’ve learned so much from him even on the whole scheme of things.
“But on the same note, there’s an expectation from him and there’s a very exact way that he wants things done. It’s great when you do it his way, you see that offenses can’t really do much against us.”