John Denton's Knights Insider: Linam Steps Up Saturday

Aug. 13, 2011

Read John Denton's Knights Insider | Follow us on Twitter | Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Surrounded by mostly youth and inexperience in the linebacker corps, UCF's Josh Linam takes seriously his role as a playmaker and leader for the Knights' defense.

Linam's growth as a player and focus as a leader was evident Saturday morning during the Knights' first full-contact scrimmage of training camp, making play after play in the middle of the defense.

Linam's stellar, stingy play helped UCF's defense carry the day in a steamy session where yards were hard to come by and the defense swarmed on tackles. The offense did play well late in the day, getting three-straight touchdown runs from quarterback Jeff Godfrey and tailback Latavius Murray. But for the most part, the defense proved itself to be slightly ahead of the offense - in large part because of the sure tackling by Linam.

``It's a team defensive effort and everybody has to be doing their job for us to be successful as a whole. We made some strides forward in doing that today,'' Linam said. ``As a senior, a lot rests on my shoulders. I expect myself to get everyone lined up, make sure they are doing the right things and playing with effort and enthusiasm. I think everybody was doing that today.''

Cornerback Josh Robinson had the hit of the day, violently jarring tailback Ronnie Weaver on a screen pass around the right end. Linam had tackles on four of the first six plays he was involved in, safety Clayton Geathers picked off reserve quarterback Blake Bortles and tackle Victor Gray ended the scrimmage with a four-yard tackle for loss. In between, promising freshman linebacker Leilon Willingham had several tackles and standout safety Kemal Ishmael was in position for several stops despite being limited by his noncontact status following offseason shoulder surgery.

``The defense played well, but they've got to sustain. They can't give up the big plays, and when it's time for a big stop they have to make a stop,'' said UCF head coach George O'Leary, referring to the fiery goal line drill at the end. ``The defensive line got the better of (the offensive line) today throughout the scrimmage. I tried to mix up the ones, twos and threes so they saw a lot of different bodies. But the defensive line got the better. We've got to learn to finish because we're not finishing plays offensively. We're one-hit Charlies and you can't win that way.''

Brynn Harvey, who missed all of last season with a torn knee ligament, continued to gain on incumbent starting tailback Latavius Murray with another strong performance. Harvey had a 24-yard touchdown run against the second defense that was set up by a nifty cutback against the grain. Harvey said the competition at tailback between Murray, Weaver and himself has made each one of them work harder and perform better.

``We know that every day when we come on the field that it's going to be a good competition,'' Harvey said. ``Off the field, we look at film together and try to improve. We're gearing up for the season and we know there will be a set number of carries for each of us, so we're all three working hard.''

Godfrey, the freshman of the year in Conference USA last season, showed some improvement by staying in the pocket longer to allow plays to develop. When he did, he usually found speedy wide receiver Quincy McDuffie down the field for long gainers. McDuffie, the Knights' fastest player at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, caught two deep square-in passes and had a 26-yard run off an end-around play. Clearly, the goal is to get the ball more into the hands of McDuffie, who has three career kickoff returns for touchdowns and is blossoming as a receiver.

``It's a great feeling knowing that coach has trust in my capabilities and what I bring to the table,'' McDuffie said. ``I feel like I'm a guy who is able to make something happen. I'm looking forward to whatever plays I have called for me this season.''

As for Linam, he is UCF's lone senior at linebacker and he could very well be lining up alongside true freshmen Terrance Plummer and Willingham at times this season. And another of the standout linebackers in camp, Ray Shipman, is a converted basketball player from the University of Florida. So Linam, UCF's third-leading tackler last season, knows that much of the responsibility for UCF remaining atop Conference USA in defense rests on his shoulders.

``Again today (Willingham and Plummer) took another stride forward. They're doing their jobs, they're really athletic and they're running to the ball and making plays,'' said Linam, who had 78 stops and nine tackles for loss last season in his first year as a starter. ``I think the chemistry on defense right now is great. Everybody is really into it with one heartbeat and trying to get better. Everyone is focused on playing team defense and getting better. If we keep this up we have a chance to be a really good defense.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.