By Sean Anderson
KINGSTON, R.I. – While many of the faces are new, Rhode Island's group of linebackers going into 2018 with a big group of experienced upperclassmen. The group consists of one graduate transfer, one redshirt senior, three true seniors, and three juniors on the depth chart. Add three redshirt-freshmen and a pair of highly-touted true freshmen, and the Rams have a deep crew set for a heavy dose of competition in camp.
The leader of the line backers is Wayne, N.J. product Justin Hogan. Hogan heads into his senior season coming off of a year where he led the team with 104 tackles, including two tackles for losses, one sack, five pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Hogan's combination of speed and strength makes him the prototypical linebacker. If you are looking to see hard-nosed football at Meade Stadium this year, keep your eyes on Hogan.
Also back are redshirt senior Shawn Antoine (Harlem, N.Y.) and seniors Nas Jones (Newark, N.J.) and Miles Gardea (Petaluma, Calif.). Jones made the transition from safety to linebacker last season and started in the second half of the season, finishing with 33 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two pass breakups last season. His most notable performance was against Maine, when Jones notched nine tackles. Jones has played in all 33 possible games over the last three seasons, making 19 starts. One of the most versatile and flexible players on the roster, Jones will be a significant factor again this season.
Gardea, who transferred to URI last year, notched 25 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. Antoine had 12 stops last year. Both players have been key players on defense and special teams.
The coaching staff hit the recruiting trail hard in search of linebackers, and came up with several players who should contribute immediately. Graduate senior Jalen Williams transferred from Pitt, where he played in nine games last year. Junior Branyan Javier-Castillo came in from Lackawana College, where he had 40 tackles, nine sacks, and two forced fumbles in 2017. The NEFC First Team All-Conference player should fill a starting role right away. Junior Isaiah Moak has transferred from Hudson Valley Community College, where he had 98 tackles and six sacks last season. The 98 tackles were 18th among all NJCAA players a year ago.
Two true freshmen the Rams brought in are ready to compete as well. Christian Arrington (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) had 74 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and one fumble recovery in his senior season. The 6-2, 225-pound Arrington has a strong frame for the position. Joining Arrington is Andre Johnson from Vero Beach, Fla. Johnson earned the TCPalm.com All-Area Player of the Year for his senior season. Johnson had 125 tackles and 15 sacks as a senior.
Back in the fold are junior Mazen Taman (Cranston, R.I.) and redshirt freshmen Jake Fire (Stow, Mass.), Travis Franco (East Lyme, Conn.) and Justin Samardich (Garden City, N.Y.). All have at least one season in the program under their belt and add depth to the defense and special teams. Freshman walk-on and homegrown talent linebacker Zach Pinault from Smithfield, R.I. will join the team in camp as well.
Check GoRhody.com Friday for a look at the cornerbacks on the 2018 roster.