There was a time when Morgan State middle linebacker Cody Acker was more consumed with his tackles total. Aside from the excitement of taking down a running back or sacking a quarterback, Acker enjoyed seeing the numbers increase next to his name after each game.
But with age comes maturity, and the junior now concerns himself more with team-wide success than his personal stats.
"I think any football player who is a competitor wants to play at a high level," Acker said. "Before, I wanted to make a lot of tackles. Now, if that's not the way the game plays out, I'm not upset about it."
Tackling, however, is what the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Acker does quite well for the Bears (2-5 overall and 2-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), who face league rival Howard (2-5, 1-3) Saturday in Washington.
Acker leads Morgan State's defense in both solo tackles (40) and overall stops (62), ranking 10th in the MEAC. He's had double-digit tackles in four games thus far and made a season-high 12 solo tackles in the team's 27-21 loss to Norfolk State on Sept. 28.
Acker's solo tackles this fall already surpass the 39 stops the Greenbelt native made in 10 games in 2012. Acker's development may be a surprise to some, but not to Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley.
"We asked for leadership and we put the onus on him to be the team leader," Hill-Eley said. "Our expectation was that he would step up and take charge of this defense, and he has."
Acker's play has filled the void created by the departure of Elandon Roberts, who led the Bears in tackles with 107 as a freshman last season. Roberts transferred to Houston in the offseason.
Making the calls on defense — an assignment that belonged to Roberts — has passed onto Acker.
"He's the check guy," Hill-Eley said. "He's the guy that puts the [defensive] front in the best position and also the back end. He's the quarterback of the defense, that if we make a call and we have to make an adjustment, the coaches rely on him to do that. He gaps the linebackers or rotates the coverage. He's the guy who makes that call."
It sounds like there is a lot on Acker's plate, but he said he welcomes the responsibility.
"I take pride in being the leader of the 'D,'" Acker said. "So I don't think I can say that it's too heavy for my shoulders. It's just another task in hand and what you have to do when you play middle linebacker. When you're the middle linebacker, you have to be a leader. You can't have a guy that's not going to be on the same page and have everybody on the same page, because you're the guy who is connecting the front to the back."
With Roberts manning the middle last year, Acker lined up at outside linebacker, rushing the passer and dropping into pass coverage. It was a position that required him to alter his play and his thinking.
"I had to change the way I read plays," Acker recalled. "When you're on the inside, you're reading the guards and the tackles. When you're on the outside, you've got to look at the tackles, but then there's also a [running back or tight end] on your toes, and you don't know if he's running a route. So it was a little new to me. My coach came to me last year and said, 'We need you to play that position.' It was best for the team, and that's what I had to do."
Acker had used his experience at outside linebacker to aid junior Christopher Robinson. The Dunbar graduate transitioned from defensive end to outside linebacker in the offseason, and he said Acker has organized weekly meetings every Monday involving just the linebackers.
"On Mondays which is usually our offday, we go out and get in some extra work," Robinson said. "What we work on is getting that run-pass read. Our coaches are always preaching eyes, eyes, eyes, getting our eyes where they're supposed to be. Something that helped me was those Mondays and having my eyes where they were supposed to be. … Getting that run-pass read was something that Cody thought all the linebackers should know."
A change in the defensive scheme has also provided more opportunities for Acker to make tackles. The Bears have gone from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 alignment, in which the defensive linemen tie up blockers to allow the linebackers to shoot gaps. Add an offseason regimen that included three workouts per day, five days per week with his personal trainer Cortez McNeil, and Acker is not shocked by his success this fall.
"I put in the work in the offseason to prepare myself to come out and play at a high level," he said, "and it's just paying off right now."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun