Aug. 25, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - In Chance Henderson, Derrick Hallman and Lawrence Young, UCF has one of the nation's most experienced linebacking corps with that group possessing 537 career tackles and 84 collegiate starts.
Despite all of that overflowing experience, blossoming linebacker Josh Linam is expected to see plenty of time on the field this season for the Knights. Yes, Linam has been that good in this preseason camp, so much so that head coach George O'Leary and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable are looking for ways to get the 6-foot-3, 237-pound heavy hitter on the field more.
Linam, a Tavares native, was a special teams ace for the Knights last season and has made such strides now with his maturity and recovery from a shoulder injury that he's certain to see plenty of key time at middle linebacker. Huxtable calls Linam one of the biggest surprises of the preseason, while O'Leary has noticed the heady linebacker usually being in the right place at the right time.
``He's played so well in the past on special teams. He's had some injuries that have held him back on defense, but he's had a really good preseason camp,'' O'Leary raved. ``I see him around the ball a lot more and he has a lot better contact speed. I think the more competition that you have at those positions the better that you are.''
Linam's growth has allowed him to split time with Henderson and ease some of the concerns of a defense that lost captain and middle linebacker Cory Hogue to graduation. Henderson, a three-year starter, missed all of last season because of a knee injury and he's been able to ease back into the lineup this fall while splitting reps with Linam.
``It's been great for both of us competing every day for a job,'' Linam said. ``It's made us both better players.''
Once an excitable player who would sometimes let the magnitude of the moment overcome him, Linam credits an improved maturity to his development this season. He is far more familiar with the defense now and much more relaxed barking out the checks and stunts for the defense.
``There were times out there when I would panic and would worry about there being too many calls to make. Now, I've calmed down with the defense as a whole and it's made me play better and faster,'' Linam said candidly. ``I just told myself that I was going to come out every day with the focused attitude and have tons of energy and make myself better and make the defense better.''
Some of the credit for Linam's growth could be attributed to UCF's do-everything defensive end, Bruce Miller. Already the nation's active leader in sacks and Conference USA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Miller has helped his roommate think the game more. The two talk often about their mental approach and relaxing in pressure times in order to maximize their production.
``I've seen a lot of growth as far as maturity with Josh. In the past he would have some problems keeping up with the schemes of the defense, but he's much more comfortable in there now,'' Miller said. ``I'm not sure how much I've helped him. With Chance, Derrick and Lawrence being the experienced linebackers, those guys have helped him out a lot. The only thing I could do for him is talk about composure and trying to keep him calmed down and focused on what he needs to do.''
Added Linam: ``Bruce and I, we're like family having a roommate like him. We talk about going out on the football field and doing the right things and becoming the best players that we can. He's helped me relax.''
Because of his rare combination of size, speed and toughness, Linam will remain on most of the Knights' special teams units. But he also beams at hearing Huxtable say that he is working to find ways to get him on the field more to maximize his blossoming talents.
``Anytime a defensive coordinator tells you that, it makes you feel really good,'' Linam said of the push to get him on the field more. ``I'm the type where I'm willing to help the defense out anyway that I can. I'm trying to become more of a leader and I'm pushing myself to become a better player for this team.''
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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.