Defensive Newcomers to Watch: No. 4

Evan Zeger (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

Today on Dawgman.com, we continue our series where Chris Fetters and Scott Eklund take a look at some of top returning underclassmen that are currently in line to see a lot of playing time this fall. Next on the defensive side of the ball are a trio of linebackers who, as redshirt frosh bided their time on the bench - watching and learning.

Can Scott Lawyer, Matthew Lyons and Evan Zeger break through and make their mark in 2012 for a linebacking corps that's still relatively young but getting more and more athletic all the time?
Scouting Report - Lawyer and Zeger - who moved down from his safety position last season - are almost identical physically at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. Lawyer, from San Jose, came to Montlake 20 pounds lighter last summer but has done some fierce work in the weight room to get bigger, faster and stronger. Zeger, from Las Vegas by way of Skyline High School on the Plateau, already had the size to compete at safety as a true frosh but has continued to physically mature so the new Washington defensive coaches, knowing they were going to start throwing more 3-4 looks at opposing offenses, saw Zeger's size and switched him to linebacker.

Both Lawyer and Zeger are physical players who don't shy away from contact. Even though there wasn't a ton of hitting going on this past spring, they both showed glimpses of guys that could compete for the Chuck Niemi 'Big Hit' Award down the road. Zeger was nearly a carbon copy of former safety Nate Fellner when he came to UW, so it's no surprise he's followed Fellner's migration to linebacker. Both love to be close to the action where they can put their noses in.

Lyons, at 206 pounds, is more like what Princeton Fuimaono was when he first showed up at Washington, and his game is a lot like Fuimaono's too; quickness and toughness personified. USC's Dion Bailey showed you can play linebacker at the Pac-12 level at 200 pounds, and Lyons - though his forte will be as a sideline-to-sideline predator tracking down ballcarriers - won't hesitate to be that WIL-style 'backer that comes in to clean up.
Where they fit - Lyons looks to be the classic WIL, the one that contains, can rush the quarterback and cleans up, and should be in a competitive battle with junior Taz Stevenson - who moved down from safety - for playing time. He's not the biggest guy, but his quickness and athleticism should allow him some joy - especially when going up against bigger tackles. But he'll need to make sure he can set the edge and get his nose in there to make sure ballcarriers can't bounce plays outside him.

I like Lawyer at the SAM spot competing with Fuimaono this year. Those two could find the best in each other, as Lawyer had a very productive spring. Because of his size, he could always work into the MIK or BUCK inside 'backers, depending on down and distance. He has the athleticism to cover in space, but probably is best on the edge containing plays or pushing upfield to cause havoc in the backfield.

Zeger, to me, has the versatility to play inside or out. He could be the BUCK, or weakside inside 'backer, because that position requires a sure tackler - and he can definitely put someone on the ground. He also has the physicality to be able to pick his way through the trash in the middle of the field to get to ball carriers.

Because of the variety of positions these three have played at the prep level and also in college, there's no doubt they could be put in a number of different situations based on their abilities and what is required at the time.
Why this is the year to make their mark - In a four-round golf tournament, Saturday is called 'Moving Day' because you have a chance with that third round to suddenly vault yourself into a contending position for the final round, or burn out. Simply put, 2012 is 'Moving Day' for all the linebackers in Washington's system. It's a new day defensively on Montlake, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon have instituted fresh thoughts about the role the linebackers will play during their time at UW. With a 3-4 scheme in place and the fundamentals established throughout spring ball, all 13 of the named 'backers on Washington's fall camp roster have a chance to reinvent themselves and their legacies.

Lawyer, Lyons and Zeger haven't been at UW long enough to establish themselves yet, but with a new defensive staff in place have the opportunity right now to show they belong and are worthy of substantial playing time. When you look at returning players like Fuimaono, John Timu, Jamaal Kearse, Thomas Tutogi and Garret Gilliland, there's plenty of game experience there but not a lot of deep, veteran leadership. Moving Fellner and Stevenson in the mix this spring has bolstered that thought somewhat - but the three redshirt frosh know now is the time where they set the standard for themselves in front of the coaches that will likely be their judges and jury for the next few years. So there's no time like the present to take advantage of their positive springs and summers to show they are ready to take that next step in their development.

In an established program with a clear hierarchy and quality depth, these three players wouldn't be asked to push for a sizable role until possibly their third year. But Wilcox, Sirmon, et al… are looking for players to impress them, to wow them. Lawyer, Lyons and Zeger have that opportunity, and they need to seize it and prove they are worthy of not just playing time, but lots of it.

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