Hodge finds voice as Syracuse’s new starting middle linebacker

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 3, 2014 at 12:15 am Contact Jesse: [email protected] | @dougherty_jesse Clark Lea knew he’d have to replace middle linebacker Marquis Spruill after the 2013 season. He just wasn’t exactly sure how. “Going into camp we weren’t sure about the middle linebacker position and for a coach, that’s a weird spot to be in,” said Lea, Syracuse’s linebackers coach. “But then Marqez (Hodge) started to develop and there was a point in camp where I thought ‘Yes, this is it.’“From there, I felt a whole lot better about the situation.”Hodge, who made his first start at middle linebacker in the Orange’s 27-26 win over Villanova on Friday, is the first to admit that he’s a shy guy. He inherits the spot from Spruill, a notably vocal leader who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons.But while Hodge has transitioned into a position that practically demands on-field communication, the sophomore’s shyness has proven more a blessing than a curse.When Hodge talks, his teammates listen. Not only because he’s at the heart of Syracuse’s defense, but because it’s uncommonAdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I don’t talk all the time, but when I do it’s usually serious,” Hodge said. “Not bad serious or anything, just that it’s something that everyone else should know.”From a physical standpoint, shifting from outside to middle linebacker isn’t too hard of a task. Hodge played outside linebacker at Miami Central (Florida) High School and that’s the position he played when he caught SU coaches’ attention against Georgia Tech last season.Syracuse switched to a 3-4 defense in that game — which ended in a 56-0 loss — and Hodge replaced defensive end Robert Welsh in the starting lineup. He recorded a career-best 12 tackles in the game, and his adaptation to middle linebacker has been a natural process ever since. “There aren’t really many differences, maybe a few footwork things and some small stuff in coverage,” senior outside linebacker Cameron Lynch said of the two positions. “If you can play in the outside, you can play in the middle, and vice versa. Marqez is a natural linebacker and he’s been fine crossing over.”Working on his communication, though, was a steep task for Hodge at the start of training camp.When he was still unfamiliar with the position, Hodge said he had no way of breaking out of his shell. But as he learned the language of the defense and got comfortable in between seniors Lynch and Dyshawn Davis, he found himself taking ownership of the role.Against Villanova, Hodge recorded five tackles — tied for fourth most on the team as Lynch led with 15 — and added a sack and two tackles for loss. He also helped the defense adjust to the Wildcats’ attack while clogging the middle of the field.Villanova rushed up the middle 39 times and gained just 76 yards, which comes out to 1.9 yards per carry. “It’s been little by little but I think I have really started to communicate better,” Hodge said. “The spot is all about communication because you are just in the middle of everything and have to control the middle of the field. That’s something I saw from Marquis that I am trying to do, too.”The Orange’s run defense was arguably its strongest suit in 2013. Lynch, with 69, Spruill, with 66, and Davis, with 49, ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, on the team in total tackles. The trio combined for 33.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. SU’s run defense gave up the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the Atlantic Coast Conference.Now Hodge is the new face in an established unit and the change has been relatively seamless. Lea, barring any injuries, won’t have to make any more personnel decisions until the end of the season and he certainly isn’t rushing to.“Spruill went after he finished up and then we’ll have to eventually think about Cam and Dyshawn’s spots. I mean we have a lot of young talent on the outside,” Lea said before pausing and smiling. “Let’s just enjoy having Marqez in the middle now and knowing we have a solid starting core from week to week.” Commentslast_img

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