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October 13, 2011As co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Scott Farison looked over the depth at linebacker heading into spring practice, it was clear that numbers or even talent wouldn't be an issue in trying to replace stalwarts Alex DiMichele and Elias Navarro.
With coaching, repetitions, and quality competition, whoever stepped into the holes left by Navarro and DiMichele would have the tools and ability to do well.
"We knew we had a lot of depth at that position. For us, it was a matter of how quickly we were going to get there," Farison said. "They've done a great job. They're constantly studying. They're in my office all the time, wanting to know why I'm doing this or why I'm doing that."
"They" are Kyle Cooper and Jon Krepps. The redshirt sophomore and senior are settling in now that Krepps is back from an early season hamstring injury that kept him out of the Liberty and Morgan State games. Krepps, recruited as a middle linebacker, moved outside as a sophomore as Robert Morris moved to the 3-4 defense.
"We moved him out because we went to the 3-4 (defense) with a stud, which is a bigger, stronger outside linebacker as opposed to the Will," Farison said. "The transition for him inside is calling plays, actually being the general, and getting everyone lined up. But as far as learning plays, we teach our guys to know everything anyway. The playcalling is the biggest transition he had to make, and he's done a very good job."
It may be more of a responsibility and a shift for Krepps to make the calls on defense, but he feels right at home.
"I love it. When they moved me sophomore year, I wanted to go right back in the middle," Krepps said. "But I wanted to play, and I knew Alex and Elias were phenomenal backers, so I did whatever I could to get on the field."
Farison said that the increased comfort level has been noticeable.
"I think he's a little more comfortable, just being able to sit back and read," Farison said. "It's opened him up and letting him play football."
While linebackers are being increasingly pigeon-holed into hard and fast categories - pass-rushing outside linebackers like James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware, intelligent and demonstrative run-stoppers like James Farrior and Ray Lewis - Robert Morris has taken a different tact. All four linebackers are required to be able to both pass-rush, stop the run, and stay with their man in coverage.
"You have to be able to be a total, versatile football player," Krepps said.
That versatility helped Krepps stick for two years at outside linebacker, including getting him two starts last year as a junior. He took that chance to work alongside DiMichele and Navarro as a learning opportunity.
"Elias was one of the smartest football players I've played alongside, with the exception of maybe (Adam) Lawrence," Krepps said.
The experience - not to mention the overall success of the team - allowed Krepps to move seamlessly into his role alongside Cooper this year. The two have been working together since spring ball, and the results are beginning to show. Robert Morris is first in the conference in total defense and fourth in the nation among Division I FCS schools.
"You just build a bond with someone. We had all of spring ball and camp," Krepps said. "You get to know that person in and out and if he's going to be there or wait an extra step."
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