Losing a starting middle linebacker might cripple some football teams, but Johns Hopkins has been largely unaffected by the absence of Keith Corliss.
The Blue Jays feature a defense ranked at the top of the Centennial Conference in both points and yards allowed. And they are one win away from finishing a perfect regular season at 10-0 overall and 9-0 in the league despite some instability among their linebackers.
Corliss, a sophomore, sat out the team’s 34-16 victory at Gettysburg on Oct. 26 and a 45-30 win against Franklin & Marshall on Saturday; he played sparingly in a 24-18 victory over Ursinus on Nov. 2 because of an unspecified injury.
Corliss, who has made 38 tackles this season, has been replaced by senior J.P. Marquess, who has recorded 16 tackles in the past three contests. Teamed with senior outside linebacker John Arena and junior inside linebacker Hani Annabi, Marquess has helped anchor the linebacker corps.
“Our guys have played very well, but that’s where we’ve been beat up the most,” coach Jim Margraff said Wednesday. “We still have several guys out right now. We’ve got some young guys playing, and we’re rotating a lot of guys in. They’ve been productive, but at the same point, we’ve been somewhat inconsistent. So we’re looking to get stronger there.”
Corliss’ absence has been masked by strong performances from Annabi and Arena. Annabi leads the defense in tackles with 50 and has posted two sacks. Arena is second with 41 tackles and has five sacks and two interceptions; he returned one 54 yards for a touchdown in the victory over Franklin & Marshall.
“Hani’s been playing well,” Margraff said. “Last week, I thought F&M moved the ball against us and we’re looking at some of those things. But he played well. John Arena’s just been terrific. We’ve leaned on John as a senior captain and a team leader, and he’s been doing a great job.”
Margraff said he does not expect Corliss to return in time for Saturday’s road game against McDaniel (2-7, 2-6), but he hopes Corliss will be able to play in the postseason. Corliss’ return may make the linebackers even stronger, but Margraff said he is seeking a more even approach from that group.
“We’ve been very good at times, but somewhat inconsistent,” he said. “So we’re just looking to play at a higher level right now.”