September 19, 2008

Linebackers Build Speed, Strength to Stop Run

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After taking a hard hit following the graduation of veteran linebackers Ryan Blessing and Doug Lempa, look for the line to make some significant changes going into the 2008 season. Several upperclassmen with both defensive line and linebacker experience will come on in a full-time linebacker position to compensate for the losses.
Senior Graham Rihn will be one of the Red players leading the charge as the Red transitions from the a 4-2-5 defense known as the “Bear Front,” to a 3-3-5, with three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs.
“We’re strictly linebackers, now,” said senior Brian Ostrowsky, who racked up 29 tackles last season while switching back and forth between linemen and defensive back positions.
The new defensive formation will hopefully be more proactive in terms of attacking opponents’ offensive line, as well as their running backs — something the Red struggled with last year.
“Especially with Cornell football, there’s something about a run defense that we need to have and that we didn’t have last year,” Rihn said. “The new defensive strategy represents a strategic change in focus. Stop­ping the run is going to be one of the linebackers’ num­ber one goals this season.”
Rihn earned All-Ivy honors last year and was picked Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week twice.
Senior Ryne Posey, much like Ostrowsky, will get more minutes this year after previously serving as a reserve.
“They are all seniors, with Graham Rihn, Brian Ostrowsky, Ryne Posey,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “Posey was a defensive end last year and we converted him to linebacker. All of those guys have played varsity games and have experience.”
Also vying to be part of the rotation will be juniors Chris Costello and Aaron Levine. Both men have made key contributions as part of the reserves last year.
Another focus of the linebackers this year will be toughness — both mental and physical.
“Our main focus in the offseason was speed and gaining muscle mass and strength,” Rhine said. “I think our team really stepped up to the challenge and did a great job in the offseason in terms of coming back a lot bigger and a lot stronger.”
“There’s never a question of effort, there’s never a question of how hard we were playing … we were just getting pushed a round a little bit [last season], and that’s not going to happen this year,” Ostrowsky said.
Both Rhine and Ostrowsky said the unit has been hitting the weight room hard, and has been concentrating on bulking up.
The pair is aware that this will be their last season with the Red, and said that this will offer them an added level of motivation.
“It’s our senior year, and it’s our last chance,” Ostrowsky said. “I think a lot of the 32 seniors are taking that mentality as far as all or nothing.”
This is especially true of Ostrowsky, who, despite his experience, has not received a lot of consistent playing time. He is excited for the opportunity to significantly increase his minutes on the field.
“It’s great — it’s a lot of hard work and it pays off,” he said.
Look for sophomores Ross Mosher and Brandon Lainhart to also get a piece of the action this fall. Last year both players played for special teams and as members of the travel squad. Other hopefuls include senior Bennett Gerli and sophomore Joe Manganelli, both utility players who impressed coaches last year. Freshman Adam Harris, Zach Imhoff, Zak Murdoff and Mike Spooner are all in the mix as well as they concentrate on learning the Red’s defense while trying to catch the eye of the coaching staff.