MARQUETTE - First-year Northern Michigan University linebackers coach Karl Maslowski says he's excited about the experience his position group brings to the field in 2013.
However, he's not talking about the amount of games his players have appeared in.
Maslowski is referring to his linebackers' experience as defensive backs and speed that comes from playing as a corner or safety.
Northern Michigan University senior linebacker Morgan Stenz, in black, battles with one of his teammates on the offensive line during a preseason practice outside the Superior Dome in August. Stenz was second on NMU in tackles last season with 82. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"We have a lot of athleticism," Maslowski said. "When you get guys like a Loran Jaddou, and Morgan Stenz, and Nick Krause, all three of those guys have played DB at some point in their life. We have a lot of speed at that position."
Whether it's in high school - like redshirt freshman Adam Nichols out of Manitowoc, Wis. - or earlier in their collegiate careers - like Krause as a freshman at NMU - the linebackers' background in the secondary is essential in order to compete in the GLIAC.
Spread offenses, such as the one NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky brought to the Superior Dome in 2010, are now the rule rather than the exception in the league.
Five-wide receiver sets, running backs that not only run receiver routes, but line up as wide receivers, and sprinting quarterbacks result in linebackers playing as DBs more often than not.
For that reason, Stenz is happy to have experience dropping back into coverage.
"We do a lot of route-matching coverages, so the linebackers end up playing a lot of man coverage," Stenz said. "We just fly to the ball. We simplified our defense, so when we see it, we just run to the ball."
Stenz, Krause and Jaddou are projected to start in the season-opener against Findlay (Ohio) on Sept. 14 in Marquette, with Jaddou moving to linebacker after making 27 tackles as a safety last year.
Krause led all the Wildcats in tackles last season with 94, while Stenz was second with 82.
Krause also posted a team-high 12.5 tackles for a loss and team-high two sacks, but what has Maslowski impressed is Krause's skills in coverage.
"He's unbelievable the way he understands coverages," Maslowski said. "He does a really good job in coverage and he understands the difference between run and pass, which out there in space can be hard."
Stenz said the Wildcats' linebackers are just as "high octane" as the offenses they face, therefore, depth is key at the position.
The captain said he believes the 'Cats have it.
"The tempo offenses, we struggled with that last year," Stenz said. "It will be nice that we can take out our whole (number ones), put in our twos and still be just as sound."
Maslowski said he expects junior transfers Marcus Lee of Bolingbrook, Ill., and Kyle Polk of Piscataway, N.J., to play significantly, as will another former NMU defensive back, senior Brock Reynolds.
Echoing his captain, Maslowski said depth at linebacker is key in the GLIAC, not only to survive injuries, but to make it through a game.
"I think what's going to be great is when we play in this league, it's a lot of spread, hurry-up offenses," Maslowski said. "We're going to be able to substitute a lot and keep our guys fresh."