New-look linebackers lead Owls’ defense

TIMOTHY VALSHTEIN TTN Redshirt-freshman linebacker Nate D. Smith (far left) chases Temple quarterback Chris Coyer Saturday, April 14.

Ahkeem Smith hopes to lead the defense.

After spending last season adjusting to a new position, redshirt-senior linebacker Ahkeem Smith, will look to perfect his mindset on defense.

The former running back, who spent his first two eligible seasons in the backfield, said he expects the defense to rely on play making abilities instead of raw talent. Smith started one game last sesaon, while appearing in all 13 contests and recording 43 total tackles.

This season the Owls have the task of replacing their defense’s leading tackler and former linebacker Stephen Johnson, along with sack specialists former defensive end Adrian Robinson and former linebacker Tahir Whitehead.

“You can’t just depend on one person this year,” Smith said. “It’s going to be like a swarming defense.”

Coach Steve Addazio said  Smith has developed during spring practices.

“Last year [Smith] was a little bit [of a], ‘deer in a headlight,’ sometimes that happens when you change a position,” Addazio said. “Now he’s really starting to learn how to play linebacker. He runs really well, he gets to the ball. He’s going to continue to improve.”

At halftime of the Cherry and White scrimmage on Saturday, April 14, at Lincoln Financial Field, six players were awarded with spring honors, including Smith, who received the Defensive Most Improved Player Award.

“I was actually surprised, I feel like we were all in there just learning and getting better,” Smith said.

Smith will be joined by fellow linebacker junior Blaze Caponegro, who started eight games at weakside linebacker last season and is the defense’s only returning starter.

“I’m starting to take on a leadership role along with [Caponegro], he’s having a great spring, he’s like a veteran as well and [junior Gary Onuekwusi],” Smith said. “So we’re all trying to rally so we can get the defense right.”

Other linebackers who will compete for time on the field this season include juniors Olaniyi Adewole and Sean Daniels, sophomore Praise Martin-Oguike, redshirt freshman Nate D. Smith and freshman Tyler Matakevich.

Nate D. Smith and Matakevich each led their respective defenses in the scrimmage with 12 and 11 total tackles.

Matakevich said he was able to learn the defensive scheme this spring by watching the veteran players, like Ahkeem Smith.

“[Ahkeem Smith] has taught me so much so far,” Matakevich said. “Everyday I’m talking with him and we’re going over stuff. He’s teaching me everything pretty much. It’s nice having him and the older guys teaching me.”

Connor Showalter can be reached at

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