2010 Penn Football Preview: Linebackers

Previous Previews: Offensive Line (8/6) | Tight Ends (8/9) | Defensive Line (8/11)
Running Backs (8/13)
| Defensive Backs (8/16) | Wide Receivers (8/19)

PHILADELPHIA - Leading up to Penn Football's first day of preseason practice on Aug. 24, the Penn Sports Network and PennAthletics.com will provide an in-depth look into the 2010 Penn Quakers. Each position will be previewed with analysis, a preseason depth chart and an interview with the position coach.

This installment of Penn Football's Preseason Position Previews involves a glimpse into the 2010 linebackers and an interview with first-year linebackers coach Dave Wood.

A full discussion with the position coach:

Penn Sports Network anchor Dan Fritz sat down with linebackers coach Dave Wood last week to discuss the status of the position heading into preseason practices. Click the above link to see the full interview or visit the Penn Sports Network multimedia page by clicking here.

A look at who is listed at this position entering the preseason:

Harrison Furse LB 6-1 225 Fr. Wilmette, Ill. (New Trier)
Anthony Greco LB 6-1 220 Fr. Scottsdale, Ariz. (Notre Dame Preparatory)
Joey Grosso LB 6-0 215 Fr. Lighthouse Point, Fla. (Pope John Paul II)
60 Stephen Guetig LB 6-0 200 So. Fishers, Ind. (Fishers)
50 Zach Heller LB 6-0 225 Sr. Orlando, Fla. (Lake Highland Prep)
49 A.J. Hewitt LB 6-0 225 Sr. Orlando, Fla. (Trinity Prep)
43 Peter Hobson LB 6-0 215 So. Temple Terrace, Fla. (Jesuit )
44 Steve Lias LB 6-2 230 So. Pittsburgh, Pa. (Upper St. Clair)
31 John Onwualu LB 6-2 215 So. St. Paul, Minn. (Cretin Derham Hall)
34 Alex Paino LB 6-0 225 Sr. Tarpon Springs, Fla. (Tarpon Springs)
David Park LB 6-2 215 Fr. Buford, Ga. (North Gwinnett)
39 Jake Peterson LB 6-0 245 Sr. Gardnerville, Nev. (Douglas)
47 Erik Rask LB 6-2 220 Jr. Newport Beach, Calif. (Corona del Mar)
42 Jason Rasmussen LB 6-1 220 Jr. Winter Park, Fla. (Lake Highland Prep)
45 McKinley Stephens IV LB 6-1 235 So. St. Louis, Mo. (Chaminade College Preparatory)

A PennAthletics.com preview of what and who to expect at this position:

There is no getting around the fact that this group has a huge hole to fill. The co-Ivy League Player of the Year left after signing an NFL contract and Penn must now find a way to make up for losing the league's most dominant defensive player from the nation's most dominant defense.

Thankfully, the Quakers only have the one linebacker position to worry about. Senior Zach Heller returns after earning second-team All-Ivy honors last season and is easily one of the top players in the league at his position. Heller started all 10 games in 2009 and has not missed a game since the 2007 season opener. In his first full season as a starter, he was second on the team with 55 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks (third in the league).

With Heller serving as a model of consistency - he recorded at least three tackles in every game last year - the attention of Penn fans turns to Erik Rask. He's expected to fill the other starting position after his breakout season in 2009. Rask didn't play as a freshman, but he forced his way onto the field in 2010. Playing behind Heller and Lewko, he still managed to earn honorable mention all-league recognition. He led the team and finished fourth in the Ivy League in tackles for loss with 10.5, and he was just as consistently productive as Heller with at least three tackles in eight of the last nine games. His stats should only get better as a starter.

It's certainly reassuring to have two All-Ivy linebackers in the starting lineup, but the position will need some contribution from the rest of the linebackers. The name Jason Rasmussen should become more recognizable to the Quaker faithful. He and Jake Peterson are two upperclassmen expected to make an impact. Rasmussen played in all 10 games last year, while it was anticipated that Peterson - the strongest player on the team - would be productive last year, but he missed the season with an injury and had to petition to get his senior year back.

Two more seniors, Alex Paino and A.J. Hewitt, are among those fighting for playing time. They each have been successful on special teams in recent years. Expect to see them as part of the travel group for such a role where they will also fill in if needed at linebacker.

Much like Rask in his sophomore season, there are some underclassmen that will have to fight for their time on the field, but if they produce, they could become a valuable piece into another championship run. Steve Lias and P.J. Hobson seem to be the frontrunners to take on such a role.

A perspective from an anonymous opposing coach:

"Coaching in the Ivy League, it is a given every year that Penn is going to have a good pair of linebackers, maybe more. So it won't be a surprise to us to see the same this year. We'll prepare for them the same as we do every year."

A little known detail about the players at the position:

* Zach Heller has played in 29 games through his first three seasons with the Red and Blue. No other linebacker in the Ivy League enters the 2010 season with more game experience. He did not play in the team's first game his freshman year. Since then, he's played in every single contest - 29 straight.

A look into where the players at this position stand heading into preseason practice:

47 Erik Rask LB 6-2 220 Jr. Newport Beach, Calif. (Corona del Mar)
42 Jason Rasmussen LB 6-1 220 Jr. Winter Park, Fla. (Lake Highland Prep)
44 Steve Lias LB 6-2 230 So. Pittsburgh, Pa. (Upper St. Clair)
50 Zach Heller LB 6-0 225 Sr. Orlando, Fla. (Lake Highland Prep)
39 Jake Peterson LB 6-0 245 Sr. Gardnerville, Nev. (Douglas)