YSU tries new faces at middle linebacker
By Brian Dzenis
For the first time this spring, the Youngstown State football team got to conduct practice outside in good weather.
With temperatures in the low 70s, the Penguins went through drills at Stambaugh Stadium.
“We just needed some sunlight and some feel-good weather,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Curtis Parks said. “Being in the WATTS is nice, but when you’re out on the field in the sun, it’s a lot better.”
With the sun out, a few of the Penguins’ linebackers are trying to show what they have at the middle or “mike” linebacker position.
Incumbent starter Armand Dellovade — the team’s leading tackler last season — is currently out injured. Some of the players rotating at that spot this spring include senior Lee Wright, Parks, and sophomores Malachai Newell and Christian Randall-Posey.
“We need to find our third and develop some depth there,” head coach Bo Pelini said. “I think they’ll be fine. I believe we have four coming back and we’ll get Cash Mitchell back.”
Wright brings the most experience among the healthy bodies at practice. He was the team’s leading tackler two seasons ago and missed most of last season after a suspension stemming from an incident in which a gun went off on campus. Mitchell was suspended for the same incident.
He’s normally the team’s “wheel” linebacker, which involves more work in coverage.
“Last year, I didn’t know too much about the defense. I just knew my position,” Wright said. “Learning the mike has gone well with learning the wheel and what everyone’s doing on defense.
“The mike has to make the calls and I’m getting pretty good at it,” he added.
Come fall, Wright will likely remain a wheel, but is capable of serving that mike role if necessary, Wright said. Pelini likes his versatility.
“Lee has played a number of positions,” Pelini said. “He’s a good football player and he understands the system and obviously, there’s little things he needs to get better at.”
On Friday, Parks took some reps directing the defense and Pelini said there’s still more he needs to learn about the position.
“It’s just learning how to play the system and how we play. It’s a very disciplined thing,” Pelini said. “He’s at the mike position and he has to make calls and it’s a lot for a young guy. It’s not an easy position to play.”
Parks has been practicing at that spot since the Cleveland Central Catholic product arrived in Youngstown.
“This spring, it’s starting to come together for me,” Parks said. “It’s not easy. You have to put in the work in the film room and in learning to recognize the offense, because you have to be the guy that’s setting the fronts and everything and making sure everyone is making the right checks on defense.”
As practice ended, Wright wasn’t finished taking advantage of the perfect weather.
“I’m thinking about grilling out right now,” he said.