Initially, Josh Keyes had some trepidation about his move from safety to strong-side linebacker in Boston College’s aggressive new defensive scheme.
“It was definitely a hard switch,’’ said Keyes, a 6-foot-2-inch, 216-pound junior from Ghent, N.Y., who had played defensive back since high school.
But BC defensive coordinator Don Brown sensed Keyes’s speed and physical ability would be better suited at the point of attack. So Keyes (pronounced KIZE) was moved to strong-side linebacker, where he was installed as the talented understudy to senior linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who himself was making a move to the position from the weak side to the “Sam” position.
“I had the entire spring to learn the whole system, as well as the summer,’’ said Keyes. “So I feel pretty comfortable where I’m at right now. It’s been a great fit for me so far.’’
Brown suspected as much during camp when he predicted Keyes would be a player to watch.
“He’s an explosive guy like Kevin Pierre-Louis,’’ said coach Steve Addazio. “Those two guys are really explosive and you notice those are guys who can make plays for us.’’
When the Eagles host eighth-ranked Florida State Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium, BC’s defense will need Keyes and Pierre-Louis to be on top of their games to help neutralize dual-threat quarterback Jameis Winston, who will be at the helm of a high-powered Seminoles attack that ranks 13th in the nation in total offense, averaging 547.3 yards.
“We’re going to try and execute our game plan as much as possible and see if we can get some pressure on him,’’ Keyes said. “That’s our game plan going in. It’s not going to change much, other than that he’s a mobile quarterback and we’re going to try and do the job as best we can.’’
While Pierre-Louis leads the Eagles with 28 tackles, the second most in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Keyes has asserted himself on the edge by playing with an agressiveness that has him tied with senior defensive end Kasim Edebali for the team lead in sacks with 2½ each.
“That’s bull,’’ countered Pierre-Louis, who swore Keyes had more sacks than that. “He’s got at least three — a solid three.’’
Perhaps it just seems that way, given the impact Keyes has had in the nickel package.
“He’s pretty much a secret weapon, I would say,’’ Pierre-Louis said of Keyes, who this season also has six tackles, a forced fumble, and a quarterback hurry. “Not necessarily [to] us, because we know he can play. But he’s more of a secret weapon going up against opposing offenses.”
When apprised of Pierre-Louis’s comments, Keyes was humbled.
“He’s been my mentor, basically, since the first day I got on campus in June of my freshman year,’’ Keyes said. “We’ve been pretty good friends and he’s helped me a lot with the defensive stuff.”
So, what advice did Pierre-Louis offer when both were thrust into the role of Sam linebacker?
“Well, we were kind of in the same boat, really, because it was a whole new defense,’’ Keyes pointed out. “Other than that, he had still played linebacker before and so he helped me out with the fits and, basically, how to move and all those little things you learn from playing linebacker in the past.
“He helped me learn those. Over the entire spring and summer, he helped me learn that position and fine-tune the details and the little things you need to be good at to be able to play at the Sam linebacker.”
Game by game, Keyes has gotten to the quarterback using a quick burst off the edge, beating his opponent with a speed rush to penetrate the pocket. He has at least half a sack in all three contests.
“They call it quick twitch — those guys are like that,’’ Addazio said. “They hit a pass-rush move and — boom, boom — they beat you inside really quick. I think he’s very suited to play where he’s playing. He’s more suited there than in the back end because he’s a physical guy and he’s got that explosiveness.
“I think he’s in a perfect spot for him.’’
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BC listed four players as out with unspecified injuries for Saturday’s game: freshman WR Charlie Callinan, junior TE Jarrett Darmstatter, sophomore WR Marcus Grant, and sophomore DL Nick Lifka . . . Florida State also listed four players as out: junior DB Tyler Hunter (neck), freshman TE Jeremy Kerr (knee), and freshman OLs Wilson Bell (knee) and Ira Denson (shoulder). Sophomore DE Mario Edwards Jr. (hand) was probable.