Linebackers: Strength of the team

BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky.

A look at the joust for what will probably be seven linebacker spots: Locks: The three starters, middle linebacker Brian Simmons, weak side linebacker Takeo Spikes, strong side linebacker Steve Foley. Looking good: Canute Curtis, who backs up Foley, and Adrian Ross, who can play weak and the middle. Nice catch: Free agent rookie Armegis Spearman. Battle for one spot: Billy Granville, Ben Peterson, Alan Buckwalter.

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 Spikes and Simmons, or as linebacker coach Mark Duffner calls them, "The Law Firm, look to be doing their civic duty. Duffner is using the early camp to fine tune their pass coverage drops and blitz techniques. Foley is in his best shape during his three seasons here in both running and strength, but Duffner needs him to be more consistent.

Both coaches and scouts are thrilled with Curtis, a fourth-year player who has shown good pressure on the pass. The 257-pound Curtis, who plays an end in the dime package, is in better condition this year and Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel, says, "At training camp the past few years he'd stop me in the hall every day and ask me how he was doing and what he could do to get better. Now he never asks because he's playing better. He's more confident."

Call Ross "The Law Clerk." A third-year player who made 10 starts last season on the weak side when it was a 3-4 alignment, Ross is a versatile guy who's going to swing between backing up Simmons and Spikes.  Duffner likes how the sure-tackling Ross has responded to the inside.
The concern with the 6-foot-1, 254-pound Spearman, a free agent out of Mississippi, was how long he would take to adjust to the speed of the game. But Duffner and Lippincott like how  instinctive he is finding the ball and how fluid he is moving to the ball. He can help backing up Simmons and possibly Foley down the road.
No one is betting against fourth-year man Billy Granville, a versatile, bright guy who goes all out and can play the middle and outside. The one knock is his movement skills.
The second-year Peterson played three games last year as a long snapper, but has an uphill battle to make it with the drafting of long snapper Brad St. Louis. Buckwalter, a free agent rookie out of Northwest Missouri State, has shown flashes of pass rush at outside backer but he's making the major switch from defensive end. If he's too raw but still promising, he could be headed to the practice squad.
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