The Boston College football team had just wrapped up practice Tuesday at Shea Field, the players slogging their way through a muggy and overcast morning session.
Sapped of their energy, they began to trudge off the field in clusters of position groups, but senior linebackers Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto stayed to do some extra work against tackling dummies, each player working to perfect his footwork and hand-to-hand combat skills as part of his pass-rushing technique.
While Divitto worked from his crouched middle linebacker’s position, Pierre-Louis worked on a variety of moves from his strong-side (“Sam”) spot, launching himself at the tackling dummy from a three-point stance, an upright stance, and a wider attack angle, as though lined up against a slot receiver.
“The Sam is kind of a unique position in our deal,’’ said BC defensive coordinator Don Brown. “He’s a guy who has to have the ability to walk out and cover a slot — a wideout. He has to have the ability to be an edge guy and a blitz guy. Then he has to be a static 4-3 linebacker.
“There’s a lot on the dude.’’
And make no mistake, the athletic senior from Norwalk, Conn., is the right dude for the job as he makes the transition from the weak side (“Will”) to the Sam.
“He’s a versatile guy who can do a lot of things in different packages,’’ said head coach Steve Addazio. “It’s a great showcase for a guy like that.’’
After being injury-riddled his junior and sophomore seasons, Pierre-Louis is excited about the prospect of being healthy again and hopes the switch to the Sam position will allow him to showcase one aspect of his game: “Speed.’’
“From the Will linebacker position last year, it was kind of difficult to showcase your speed,’’ said Pierre-Louis, who earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorable mention after ranking fourth on the team with 85 tackles and leading BC defenders with two quarterback sacks for losses of 17 yards.
“But from the Sam, I can definitely do that. I pride myself on speed. I just have to make sure I keep showing it every day.’’
Pierre-Louis, a 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pounder, is a preseason All-ACC selection and is on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award as National Defensive Player of the Year. On steamy days such as Tuesday, when a cloak of humidity hung over Shea Field, Pierre-Louis knows it is important to assert his leadership by doing extra work.
“The thing I like, in the spring he was probably learning just like everyone else,’’ Brown said. “Right now, he seems to be playing the game and having a little more fun, and his leadership ability is starting to shine through because he seems to show up and command respect from his teammates.’’
Said Pierre-Louis, “I’ve always had the effort piece. I’ve always had a motor to go. Now I just have to work on my techniques. As one of the leaders on the defense, Coach Brown is putting me in positions to make plays. I’m making some plays sometimes, so I have to work on the consistency.’’
Addazio hopes Pierre-Louis’s versatility will help make him a disruptive force.
“He’s really quick and explosive and a good cover guy,’’ Addazio said. “He can be an every-down player. All of a sudden, you’ve got your nickel package in there and he’s out there. You don’t always have to get into a sub game all the time.’’
“When opposing offenses see that a certain player in the whole defense can play different positions — move and shift, put our hand on the line, back up, play a wide receiver — it makes it a lot harder for them to game-plan against us,’’ Pierre-Louis said.
The Eagles have been cultivating another such player, one waiting in the wings: Josh Keyes, a 6-2, 216-pound junior linebacker from Ghent, N.Y.
“When he came in, he had a huge learning curve, and this camp he’s really made a name for himself,’’ Pierre-Louis said. “You see [No.] 25, and you know who he is out there. He’s getting better every day.
“He’s honestly making me work harder. I see this guy flying around and he’s just making plays and it makes me want to be on my toes and make sure that I’m flying around, too.’’
That no doubt explained the extra time Pierre-Louis spent on a muggy morning doing the extra work his new role demands.
“I’m definitely excited,’’ he said. “I’m very excited for what’s going to come from this day forward.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.