Lehigh senior linebackers Evan Harvey, Colton Caslow, and Pierce Ripanti stand before practice at the Whitehead practice fields on Goodman Campus on Sept. 27, 2016. Caslow and Ripanti are the two starting linebackers for the 2016 season while Harvey plays at the rover position. (Madeleine Centrella/B&W Staff)

Reading the defense: inside the mind of a Lehigh linebacker

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The linebackers stand on the field in formation, like troops ready to march into battle. They tune out the screaming crowd in the stands. They focus their eyes on the players standing in ready position on the other side of the line of scrimmage, ears open waiting for the opposing quarterback to signal the start of the play.

“Ready. Set. Hike.”

A hand-off to the running back or a pass to a receiver — they are ready to defend both.

Like a soldier, there is no rest for a linebacker.

“There are no plays off for us,” senior linebacker Pierce Ripanti said. “It is our job to anchor down the middle of the defense, and it is essential that we read and react with 100 percent efficiency and effort on every play.”

Unlike other defensive positions, linebackers must provide coverage based on reaction time, not by covering a specific player.

“We are major factors in both the run and the pass,” sophomore linebacker Jake Buskirk said.

On any given play, linebackers have to be able to step up for running plays but must also be able to drop back into coverage to defend against a pass.

As the anchor of the defense, a linebacker holds great responsibility as a leader. Communication is crucial as a linebacker — without it, the defense would be in constant scramble. They said the key to a solid defense is a perfect combination of knowing when to speak up and knowing when to listen. Linebackers need to communicate with the defensive line and the defensive backs.

“We are the center of communication and attack on the defense,” Ripanti said.

Linebackers have to listen to the checks the defensive backs make. Multiple checks are made on each play, and it’s important for linebackers to always have their ears open to be ready to listen to those checks and be ready for whatever play comes their way. They also have to convey their own checks to the defensive line and other linebackers.

“As linebackers we all have similar responsibilities,” senior linebacker Evan Harvey said. “Each of us have different checks to make pre-play depending on what the offense does.”

Because they are such an integral part of the defense, linebackers do not take their jobs lightly. Besides attending team practice, Ripanti said linebackers watch a lot of film independently to make sure they understand the scouting reports they’ve been given so they can practice what they need to do for that upcoming game.

It is crucial the linebackers stay in shape and keep their bodies healthy since the position is physically demanding.

“We go to a lot of sports medicine treatments to make sure we are good to go on Saturdays,” Ripanti said.

Going forward, the linebackers and the rest of the defense look to carry over the success from their last two wins.

“Against Penn we pitched a second half shutout, and (against) Princeton we forced three turnovers,” Ripanti said. “We want to take those positives and bring them into this week’s preparation for Yale. If we can cut down on assignment errors and continue to capitalize on opportunities presented by our opponents, it should be an exciting showing for our defense.”

Ripanti said coming off two straight wins has really gotten the ball rolling for the defense, and it wants to continue that momentum into their game against Yale on Oct. 1.

Although they’ve experienced success in the last two weeks, the linebackers know that doesn’t mean they get to let up.

“We have to focus on continuing to grow and get better each week,” Harvey said. “We still know that we have a lot more room to grow.”

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