Replacing Archie DonaldWritten by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
The Rockets have a large hole to fill at will linebacker after the graduation of Archie Donald, who led the team in tackles each of the past three seasons. Donald signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent on Aug. 2.
“Whenever you lose your leading tackler, it’s pretty tough,” Beckman said. “Those are big shoes to fill, there’s no question about it. I’ve heard Archie is playing pretty good in Cleveland. I’m very proud of Archie. His leadership is hard to replace. He wasn’t a big loud guy; he just led by example. He did a fabulous job changing this program around.”
Donald is the only player to ever lead Toledo in tackling for three straight seasons. He ranked sixth in the nation last season with 146 tackles and finished his career with 424 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions.
“I learned to be patient watching him,” redshirt freshman linebacker Ray Bush said. “He was a real patient player even though he played with a lot of passion and fire. I learned to be slow to the ball and then attack.”
Donald is one of five undrafted rookie linebackers competing for two roster spots with the Browns. He leads the group with seven solo tackles through three preseason games.
“He is a very hard worker,” junior linebacker Robert Bell said. “He showed me how to not quit on any plays. He was always the one to finish a play, and he always made plays.”
Beckman said Bell has improved the most at will linebacker this offseason. Bell was rewarded with the starting job ahead of Bush and fellow redshirt freshman James Gordon on a depth chart released Aug. 24.
“Robert Bell has had a very good camp,” Beckman said. “I’m very proud of the way he has responded to that position. Robert has had the biggest increase. He’s done a fabulous job. He’s played longer. He’s been in the program longer. He played as a true freshman. He’s a good football player, there’s no question. Bush and Gordon are having some of those redshirt freshman type problems, but they continue to get better every day.”
Bell played as a backup at both the mike and will linebacker positions last season. He made 10 tackles in eight games. As a freshman, Bell had 12 tackles in nine games and returned an interception 67 yards against Eastern Michigan.
“I bring versatility because I can play both mike and will linebacker,” Bell said. “Learning from Archie how to play fast, how to be physical and play through injury, you learn to get through everything and not just get through it just to get by today. You have to go full speed all the time. I can bring full speed every play.”
“He is a playmaker with a knack for the ball,” Donald said. “He flies around looking for the ball. He just makes plays. He’s a great football player and leader.”
Bush and Gordon will look to get experience at backup linebacker like Bell did the past two seasons behind Donald.
“They’ve got a lot of young guys there with a lot of talent,” Donald said. “I expect them to get the job done. They’ll lead the defense as much as possible and go out there and make plays.”
Bush was named Toledo City League and district defensive player of the year in his senior season at Rogers High School. He recorded 90 tackles and five sacks as the team went 9-2. Bush played will linebacker at Rogers, but he has had a lot to learn since it was a different defensive scheme.
“It’s a lot different, because we ran with three defensive linemen,” Bush said. “In high school, I didn’t have to shed blockers so much. I always just shot to the gaps and I was always bigger, stronger and faster than most of them. The edge between playing with people who are just as fast as me and linemen who are even stronger than me has been a little tough to get the hang of. I think I have the hang of it now.”
“He’s just a hard worker,” Donald said. “He’ll go out there and give 110 percent and fly around for the ball. He gives a great effort on every down. I respect him for that.”
Gordon was ranked the No. 80 outside linebacker by ESPN.com coming out of Glenville High School, where he was coached by Ted Ginn. He had 97 tackles, including 17 for loss, in a senior season cut short by injury as Glenville reached the Ohio Division I state title game. Gordon was Valedictorian at Glenville.
“The best thing for any football player is game experience, and those guys don’t have game experience right now,” Beckman said. “You are going to progressively get better. It’s a continuation of becoming a better linebacker by getting in games and seeing how you respond in games.”
Bush acknowledges his lack of game experience and is prepared to see action this season.
“I bring passion and emotion,” Bush said. “I don’t bring the game experience, but I will bring emotion. I like running sideline to sideline and using what I have, which is speed. I like using my attributes. Being out in space is what I do best.”
The Rockets open the season Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. at home against New Hampshire. Bell has a firm grasp on the starting spot at will linebacker, but he encourages the competition from Bush and Gordon.
“Everyone is out here trying to get on the field whether you’re a freshman, a fifth-year senior or a sophomore,” Bell said. “You can’t have a day off, even in practice. If you have a day off and lag, you’re going to see it on the film, because the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. If you loaf around and aren’t making plays, someone is always behind you and ready. The competition is always turning. Whoever is behind you makes and pushes you so you can go and play the best you can play every play.”