NEWTON, Mass. -- The brightest lights leave the biggest spots behind. If you stare at the sun for too long, when you close your eyes you’ll still see it.
It’s only natural, then, that when ardent Eagles fans close their eyes they see a shadow shaped like Luke Kuechly on the backs of their eyelids. After all, the prolific middle linebacker was by far the brightest light in the Chestnut Hill sky for the past three seasons, setting the school’s tackle record, collecting All-American honors and piling up national awards with big names (Butkus, Lombardi, Lott, Nagurski).
When those fans train their eyes on the field this season, they won’t see Kuechly. He’ll be playing on Sundays, after being selected ninth overall by Carolina in April’s NFL draft.
But just because the player that head coach Frank Spaziani nicknamed the Boy Wonder and the Human Eraser is no longer in the BC defense doesn’t mean there will be a void.
In his media-day session, Spaziani was asked about his biggest concern entering the season. The fourth-year boss ran down a list of non-concerns first, as if searching out loud for an answer to the question.
Quarterback -- check. Running backs -- check. Depth in the defensive backfield -- check. A strong linebacker corps -- check.
Wait, linebacker is a check? Even without Kuechly?
“We feel we have some quality linebackers,” Spaziani said.
That group includes juniors Kevin Pierre-Louis, the team’s second-leading tackler (74) last season despite missing three games with injuries, and Steele Divitto, sophomore Sean Duggan and senior Nick Clancy.
Divitto and Pierre-Louis will be expected to lead the new-look unit. Neither sounds daunted by that task.
“For me personally it’s not extra pressure, it’s a sense of responsibility,” Pierre-Louis said of leading the LBs without Kuechly. “I just know that someone needs to step up and be a force that he was on the field. That’s gonna come from all of us.”
The weak-side linebacker said he’s back to 100 percent after his injury-disrupted 2011, and is aiming to keep it that way through camp and into the season.
“We need him to play well,” Spaziani said of Pierre-Louis. “He has a lot of intangibles; he’s fast, strong, [a] good football player. We need him to make some progress in his game, just like we need a lot of guys to step up on defense to offset the production that Luke gave us.”
Divitto, the strong-side linebacker who as a sophomore ended up third on the team in tackles with 72 and added two sacks, said the burden Kuechly carried won’t fall to one person.
“The biggest thing with Luke not being here is everyone needs to be accountable,” the Don Bosco Prep product said. “Everyone has a job. The better we can execute those jobs, the better off we’re gonna be.”
His counterpart agreed.
“Even though there’s no ‘I’ in team, it takes the individuals to come together as a team,” Pierre-Louis said. “And so once we all focus on our jobs, we’ll just mesh together well.”
That meshing process would be helped greatly if Spaziani’s biggest concern entering the 2012 season proves manageable.
“As always on defense, it starts up front with the D-line,” the coach said. “It’s time for some of those guys now that’ve been in the program for a year -- we’re gonnna need them to play like they’ve been in the program for two or three years.”
Spaziani called the defensive line’s performance in 2011 “a little anemic,” and said, “The defensive line needs to play better or else we’re gonna have to have a little different scheme, coach it differently.”
BC hopes that co-captain Kaleb Ramsey can avoid the plantar fasciitis issues that plagued him last season, causing him to miss most of the year and apply for a medical redshirt. If the big defensive tackle (6-foot-3, 288 pounds) can play, the Eagles expect him to have a big impact.
If the defensive line doesn’t make the progress that Spaziani and defensive coordinator Bill McGovern hope, they will need the linebacker corps to be there to wrap up any ball carriers who make it to the second level.
And who knows, maybe losing the brightest star of the bunch just makes it easier to see the rest of the constellation.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.