John Denton's Knights Insider: Bringing the Defense Together

Aug. 22, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Though not nearly as glamorous a position, the middle linebacker slot on defense serves basically the same role as the quarterback on the offense, what with all of the play-calling, the directing of traffic and usually being in the middle of the action.

More of a complementary player last season in his first year as a starter, Josh Linam has truly evolved into the quarterback of UCF's defense now.

A senior and one of the Knights' most respected players because of his toughness and low-key nature, Linam is the unquestioned leader of UCF's linebacking corps. It's his job to not only stuff the run and drop in pass coverage, but also to make sure the players around him are functioning as one.

Whereas much of that leadership fell on the shoulders of Bruce Miller, Derrick Hallman and Lawrence Young last season, Linam is now one of the few senior starters on the defense. And his playing experience is even more valuable when considering that freshmen Leilon Willingham and Terrance Plummer and inexperienced linebackers Jonathan Davis and Ray Shipman could be lining up next to him.

So much of the responsibility of making sure the right play gets called and the team is lined up correctly falls on the shoulders of Linam. Hence, Linam's designation as the quarterback of the defense.

``My overall knowledge of the game is just so much better now. The system that we have in place here, I kind of know what's going to happen even before it happens,'' said Linam, who was also on the Conference USA All-Academic Team last year. ``I know how to get other people in place and that's really important being a middle linebacker.

``I would say there's a lot resting on my shoulders to make sure that we're lined up right because I'm one of the few seniors out there,'' Linam continued. ``It's key for me to make sure that everyone is doing the right thing and is on the same page.''

Linam, a Tavares native, was often in the right place at the right time last season for the Knights, ranking third on the team in tackles (78 total stops), while also registering nine tackles for loss, four pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery. Primarily a special teams player his first two seasons on campus, Linam caught the eye of coaches during training camp a year ago and never relinquished the starting middle linebacker job after winning it.

The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder started all 14 games and helped UCF to its finest season in school history. Linam played a big role in that by playing his best football in the biggest games. He was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week after recording a career-best 17 tackles and a pass break-up in the win at Houston. And against Georgia in the Liberty Bowl, Linam had six tackles and the first interception of his college career.

``He's played and you just can't discount that because it's good experience for him," said head coach George O'Leary. "He's played a lot of big games for us and we know what we're going to get from him. He's obviously the leader of the linebackers and he has to take charge back there. I've told him that he's going to have some bad plays, but he can't have any bad days.''

Quiet and unassuming in the past, Linam has started to come out of his shell more this season to become more of a vocal leader for the Knights. Miller, UCF's all-time leader in sacks and currently a member of the San Francisco 49ers, served as a role model for Linam in addition to being his former roommate.

Now, Linam is trying to pick up where Miller left off and become the emotional heartbeat of the UCF defense.

``I've definitely been speaking up more, trying to make sure that guys are staying on track and we're still that really good defense that we've been in the past. I did that some (speaking up) last season. Now, I'm trying to do more talking and leading off the field as well as on the field,'' Linam said. ``Our mentality around this team is toughness. You even see that on special teams. We pride ourselves on playing hard-nosed football and getting after people. We're usually flying around on defense.''

Linam says he spent even more time in his playbook and watching film this offseason to learn each of the linebacking positions. That could come in handy with Davis moving to linebacker from tailback and Shipman being a converted college basketball player from the University of Florida. Willingham, UCF's top recruit last fall, has flourished at outside linebacker, while Plummer has been one of the surprises of camp with his steady play. In addition to helping them learn the alignments, Linam has admired their progress from close by.

Now, he's of the belief that UCF could be even better defensively than it was last season when it led Conference USA in most of the major categories.

``Leilon is very athletic and very coachable. (Willingham and Plummer) are always in their playbooks and asking good questions and taking coaching. They don't get upset when they get yelled at and they're taking the coaching. They've made great strides already,'' Linam said. ``We had a great defense last year with a lot of seniors and a lot of guys who knew what it took to be a great defense. If we get everyone on the same page and playing with a lot of heart, hustle and energy we have the opportunity to be even better this year.''

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