When Darrell Hazell opens his first spring practice session as Kent State’s head coach on March 29, he won’t be focused solely on installing new offensive and defensive systems.
The first-time head coach also will have to settle several position battles.
No position was hit by graduation harder than at linebacker, where four regulars exhausted their eligibility last fall.
Hazell and new linebackers coach Marcus Freeman must find replacements for Dorian Wood and Cobrani Mixon, who ranked first and third, respectively, in total tackles last season. Veteran reserves Howard Bowens and Will Johnson also must be replaced.
Defensive end Monte Simmons, a four-year starter, also must be considered here since he often played an outside linebacker in the Flashes’ 3-4 defense.
Luke Batton, fifth on the team with 68 tackles, and Jake Dooley, who often spelled Simmons last season and finished tenth on the team with 35 tackles, are the most experienced of the returning linebackers and likely will be among the favorites to be most productive this spring.
Beyond Batton and Dooley, C.J. Steward, Danny Gress and Kent Walker recorded four, three and two tackles last season, respectively, leaving the Flashes without much experienced depth.
The Flashes do have help on the way, but its group of 2011 signees, led by JUCO transfer C.J. Malauulu won’t arrive until fall camp begins.
Aside from linebacker, the Flashes are in pretty good shape in filling holes in the lineup.
Brian Lainhart and Dan Hartman were four-year starters at safety, but there’s plenty of depth starting with Luke Wollet, who recorded 17 tackles and two interceptions as a true freshman. The Flashes also return Zack Gonosz, who played in 10 games as a freshman in 2009 before sitting out last season with an injury.
Up front, the Flashes are pretty set along the offensive line with center Chris Anzevino, left tackle Brian Winters and right tackle Josh Kline solidifying their spots and right guard Kent Cleveland returning as well. At left guard, Mike Fay has left the team, opening the door for Tyler Arend to become the frontrunner to earn the starting nod.
Several other Flashes saw playing time on the line last season, which should provide plenty of depth heading into fall camp.
There likely will be some competition at quarterback too, despite the return of Spencer Keith, who has started most of the past two seasons.
Giorgio Morgan returns after serving as Keith’s backup the past two seasons—except for a short stint as the starter in 2009—and Cedric McCloud and Sal Battles are itching to get their chance to run the offense.
Then there’s incoming freshman Evan Shimensky, who enrolled at Kent State in January. Although he’s shorter in stature than your prototypical quarterback, he has plenty of athleticism and talent.
While installation of the offense and defense will be critical for Hazell and his staff this spring, sorting out the competition at several positions also will be a focus during the Flashes’ 15 spring practice sessions.
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