As we continue our position previews we come to one of the big question marks of the 2021 Eagles team: the linebackers. For years names like Luke Kuechly, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Max Richardson, and Isaiah McDuffie formed the backbone of this unit. It has seemed that over the last few seasons there has always been a clear indication of who the next lead backer would be, but that answer is certainly not clear this year. This is because the departure of Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie leaves a group with a lot of question marks.
Isaiah Graham-Mobley certainly bolsters BC in terms of linebacking experience. A graduate transfer from Temple, Mobley played in 34 games as a member of the Owls and finished his career with 151 total tackles, 9.5 TFL and 5 sacks. This past season Isaiah earned preseason All-American Athletic Conference recognition. Mobley’s production decreased over his time at Temple as did the number of games he appeared in, likely a factor in why he transferred, so his stats over the last few season are not impressive. His best season was his redshirt sophomore season when he recorded 70 total tackles.
Isaiah definitely arrives at the Heights with the reputation of being a leader both on and off the field. He was Temple’s nominee for the William V. Campbell Trophy, Wuerffel, Witten, Senior CLASS, and AFCA Good Works Team for his leadership and community service. The grad transfer has a very good chance to start but it is far too early to say he can fill the shoes of Richardson or McDuffie. Those chances will go up if he is able to repeat or improve upon his sophomore year numbers.
Outside of Graham-Mobley the Eagles have a lot of players fans haven’t seen all that much of, but that could mean we just haven’t seen their full potential. BC has a host of redshirt juniors who have seen the field but have yet to make a memorable impact...yet. This group includes Nick DeNucci, Hugh Davis, Joseph Sparacio, Vinny DePalma.
DeNucci appeared in 11 games in 2020 on defense and special teams totaling 8 tackles. In his redshirt freshman season, DeNucci appeared in 5 games, primarily on special teams.
While DeNucci got most of his game experience in 2020, Joseph Sparacio played in just four games in 2020 and only recorded 3 tackles, but during his redshirt freshman season he played in all 13 games and made 9 starts amassing 50 tackles with 6 TFLs and a half sack plus one interception.
Vinny DePalma missed all of 2020 due to an injury but, like Sparacio, had a productive redshirt freshman season playing in all 13 games and making 1 start with 33 tackles, including 5 TFLs, plus 1 forced fumble.
Hugh Davis appeared in 11 games for the Eagles, primarily on special teams, but only totaled 2 tackles on the season. BC has a void at inside linebacker and all 4 of the above players are inside linebackers, so one or two of these guys will get their shot. DePalma and Sparacio have had the best numbers so far in their BC carrier so they are the best bets.
Sophomore Kam Arnold, originally recruited as defensive back out of Michigan, made 5tackles as a freshman. Arnold’s play time may start to increase this season but it is likely he’ll need another season at the position before he can be fairly judged going forward.
The Eagles also have a group of freshman that were highly recruited. Bryce Steele is at the head of that freshman pack. Steele was a four-star prospect by 247 Sports and ESPN, a three-star recruit by Rivals and was rated as the #11, #21, and #28 player in the state of North Carolina by Rivals, 247 Sports and ESPN respectively. Steele, like Kam Arnold, was not recruited as a linebacker but as a defensive back. However, he was still graded as a top 25 safety in the country by 247 Sports and ESPN, as well as the #34 outside linebacker in the country by Rivals. Steele’s senior season was cancelled due to COVID, so despite his pedigree he may still be a year or two off from being a full time contributor, depending on how quickly he picks up the position.
Like Steele, Jaylen Blackwell is a converted defensive back, but he played safety in high school as well as running back. He is a three-star prospect according to ESPN and was rated as a top 150 safety nationally, and was Georgia’s #170 prospect, again per ESPN.
Another three star prospect, Casey Phinney was a mid-year enrollee in January 2021 and participated in spring practice, which will help his development. Phinney was the #2 inside linebacker prospect in Massachusetts and the #6, #7 and #13 player in the state according to 247, ESPN and Rivals respectively. Nationally, Phinney graded as a top 50 inside linebacker per 247 Sports and ESPN.
Phinney is joined by another Massachusetts recruit in Owen McGowan, who was the Gatorade State Player of the Year as a senior in Massachusetts. He was also a top 10 player in the state and received #20 and #32 rankings in terms of inside linebackers nationally per ESPN and 247 Sports. McGowan also played wide receiver in high school.
A two sport athlete at St. Ignatius in Cleveland, Emmett Hanna is the recruit we know the least about, but at 6-1, 215, he has good size for a linebacker. We will need to see him on the field (likely in special teams) to get a better judge of his skill level. Similarly, redshirt freshman Joe Marinaro will be another player that will need some more playing time before a verdict is rendered on his Eagles future.
These recruit all have promise and it seems Jeff Hafley is focusing on athleticism when it comes to his recruiting (at least in regards to linebackers) which is certainly keeping with the trends of both college and pro football. It is unlikely that any of these guys will be day one impact players but a year, maybe two, of development with some game experience thrown in and BC may have a full compliment of fast, athletic, linebackers to keep up with the speedy offenses of the ACC. But for the 2021 season, expect for the Eagles to lean on the redshirt juniors.