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    Boston College has big shoes to fill on defense as spring football looms

    Boston College head coach Steve Addazio in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE
    Coach Steve Addazio and the Eagles will open spring football practice on Saturday.

    On one hand, sending a school-record seven players from the program to the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine is a point of pride for Boston College a year after one of its best seasons. On the other hand, it creates an undeniable void as the Eagles head into spring ball.

    Spanning coaching staffs and generations, BC’s defense has been its heartbeat. But it’s also in the unusual position of having to find an identity — quickly.

    Nothing was more telling than the modifications coach Steve Addazio made to his staff in the offseason. Bill Sheridan, hired as linebackers coach a year ago, was promoted to defensive coordinator, replacing Jim Reid, who will now focus on the defensive line. And with Anthony Campanile’s departure to Michigan, Eric Lewis joined the staff from Colorado State to oversee the Eagles defensive backs.

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    The question now is who fills roles on the field.

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    “I think whether you’re on offense or defense, every year you’re in a footrace to figure it out,” Addazio said. “I think that’ll be the process of spring ball.”

    In past years, BC’s anchors on defense were easy to identify. Whether it was Harold Landry and Zach Allen on the line, Connor Strachan behind them, or a long line of defensive backs in the secondary, the playmakers were clear.

    But the Eagles now have seven open starting spots on defense and the process to figure out who grabs them begins Saturday when spring practice begins.

    “If we had to play Virginia Tech Saturday, we would put our most experienced guys that have actually played,” Sheridan said. “But we’re going to take all spring and even fall camp to find out who’s going to fill those seven vacant starting jobs.”

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    Five returning defensive players have at least one game under their belts, but the true value is snap counts, which players will be fighting to earn.

    “You’ve also got hungry, hungry guys,” Addazio said. “I think it’s exciting with young guys that haven’t had their chance yet.

    “Turnover and that period of adjustment exists, and that’s what spring is about. I’m not going to minimize the fact that we lost potentially a first-round draft pick, but I’d like to think that in the making are the next round of guys that are going to come up and be really productive players.”

    Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.