CHARLESTON, S.C. - The Charleston Southern Sports Information Department is providing a position-by-position preview of the Buccaneers 2017 football team. In today's edition, we take a look at the linebacker corps coached by Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Zane Vance.
Three Things to Watch from the CSU Linebackers
Buccaneers' Iron Man
Senior middle linebacker Zane Cruz has been the anchor in the middle of the Bucs' defense over the past two seasons. The Jacksonville, Fla. native started all 24 games during CSU's back-to-back championship runs on his way to All-Conference honors last season. Last season, Cruz fought through injury to start all ten games and continue to fill a vital role as a smart, vocal leader in former defensive coordinator Chad Staggs' defense.
"He's playing more true Mike right now," Vance said of the senior middle linebacker. "We're playing a number of fronts, but playing a lot of 4-3 and anchoring him in the middle and letting him just hunt stuff. He really is a solid box player from C-gap to C-gap. He's going to find you and strike you."
Ruff's Experience to Pay Dividends Outside
Fellow senior linebacker and Charleston native Bobby Ruff provides another modicum of experience for the Blue Swarm defense this year as CSU continues the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under new Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Zane Vance. Ruff has lined up in 30 games over the last three seasons and made his mark on the defense last season with key games over Monmouth and Wofford. Ruff finished the 2016 season on a high-note with a career-high seven tackles and a half-tackle for loss against the Terriers. His ability to understand the Bucs' coverage schemes and be in the right place at the right time add another dimension to the talented front seven CSU will bring to bear against its opponents in 2017.
"When Bobby plays out there at the Sam position, you've just got an anchor out there," Vance commented. "He understands down and distance and the game situations. He's reliable, and you've got to have a guy out there that you know is going to be where you need him at from snap-to-snap. He and Zane (Cruz) have both played the game so long, I give both of them a quick glance on film and make sure they're in the right place, and then I look at our other people."
Speed and Violence; The Buccaneers Linebacker Creed
The Buccaneers' linebacker depth features a number of players that Vance is high on following the spring schedule and CSU's first two weeks of camp. Redshirt sophomore J.D. Sosebee has been flying to the ball and possesses tremendous speed and footwork that has earned his way into a starting role on the defense. Redshirt junior linebacker Landon Sayegh returns with experience in key situations including Florida State and North Dakota State last season, while Stefan Williams, Edward King, and Craig Johnson have all shined throughout the camp setting. Freshmen Tah'shim Knight, Jonathan Earl, Anton Williams, and Kyle Syvarth all earned accolades in high school and are learning the system and quickly acclimating the collegiate level.
"The linebackers were obviously a very well-coached group before I got here, so that helps a great deal," Vance said. "They're fast, active, involved in the blitz game and all over the field right now. We have a lot of players that are working every day to get better and have some young players that we signed that have a good future ahead of them."
Player Spotlight – Zane Cruz
Cruz has been a mainstay in the middle of the Bucs' defense since stepping on campus on his way to earning All-Conference honors last season. He finished fourth on the team in tackles, but played his best football when it counted coming up with a key interception in CSU's win against Bucknell, as well as a seven-tackle, two-sack performance in the Bucs' conference-clinching victory over Kennesaw State. This season with the adjustment from a 3-4 to a 4-3, Cruz is expected to take his game to the next level in 2017.
"I think it's really exciting to watch a defense play that moves, stunts, blitzes, and moves to the ball with great passion. I'd tell the average fan it's worth the price of admission to come watch the defensive line play; they're freakishly good up front. When you put these linebackers behind them, it is a violent affair out there. That's our creed: speed and violence, and that's what our linebackers will bring to the game this year." – Vance on the Bucs' linebacker corps.
4 – The Bucs have had at least one linebacker selected to the Big South All-Conference team in each of the past four seasons starting back in 2013 when Calvin Bryant earned a First Team nod. Since then, Aaron Brown (2014 & 2015), Solomon Brown (2016), and Zane Cruz (2016) have all earned postseason recognition from the conference office.
7 – CSU has been ranked among the NCAA total defense leaders in the FCS over the past few seasons based on the strength of their defensive play. The Bucs finished 2016 seventh overall in the NCAA allowing an average of 294.1 yards per game, including allowed just 102 yards last season in CSU's 38-3 win over Presbyterian.
The Bucs continue fall camp on Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. as CSU gets ready for their second scrimmage of the preseason on Thursday morning.