With Eddie Lackey graduated and trying to make it in the NFL, the Bears will be breaking in a new starter in their linebacker group. Lackey was a big-time play-maker, one who had game turning interceptions several times in his career. How the Bears replace his leadership and production will be a big key to their 2014 defensive success.
CURRENT STARTERS – 8
|3rd year starter, All-Big 12 honoree in 2012||Junior College transfer||20 tkls last year in backup role||All-State linebacker in 2012|
Anytime you return one of the best linebackers in the Big 12, you get a good grade. Bryce Hager is one of those types of players, leading the Big 12 in tackles in 2012, but really expanding on his game last year, before a groin injury took him off of the field. Hager led the Big 12 in tackles in 2012, and was averaging close to 8 tackles per game in limited time in 2013. With his senior year here, Hager enters the 2014 season as the undisputed leader of the Bears defense.
Whoever will start alongside him is still a question mark though. Aiavion Edwards enters the summer as the starter after a strong spring. However, junior college transfer Grant Campbell is expected to push him for playing time after going through the learning process in his first semester in Waco.
POSITIONAL DEPTH - 6
As of now, Campbell is the top backup at MLB, with two redshirt freshmen backing up Edwards on the outside. Undersized 2-star recruit Taylor Young received most of the snaps with the starters in the spring game, with Edwards out due to injury. He has earned the trust of defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who loves his speed and that he always is around the ball.
Behind the two immediate starters are untested sophomore Kendall Ehrlich and redshirt freshman Xavier Phillips. Both were highly coveted recruits, and higher ranked than the two linebackers immediately in front of them.
CLASS BALANCE – 6
On paper, the balance looks fine, as the Bears have a senior starter, with a junior fighting for a starting spot with a sophomore and 2 redshirt freshmen on the roster as depth options. However, the Bears did not sign a single linebacker in the 2014 class, and have yet to get a commitment in 2014 either. Worse yet, it is tough to name a single high caliber linebacker that you could say is a Baylor lean right now.
Next year, the classes will be Sophomores and up, as there doesn't appear to be a single redshirt linebacker on the roster. Because of this, the junior college route will have to be continued until the Bears can get consistent recruiting in the linebacker position.
NEXT YEAR – 6
With the loss of star middle linebacker Bryce Hager last year due to a groin injury, the Baylor coaching staff got a glimpse of life after Hager. It was not pretty. Baylor simply did not have a player even remotely close to replicating what Hager brought to the team. Weakside linebacker Eddie Lackey had to shift over to the middle, and did a good job, but it left his spot empty and a large weakness.
With Grant Campbell the only senior next year, one would assume he would rise up the depth chart to starter. Also, the Bears have Aiavion Edwards coming back again, but he is unproven as a starter, though he has the potential to be an All-Big 12 caliber player. The question marks hurt this grade considerably, though a big step forward by Campbell or Edwards would go a long way towards improving next years outlook.
FUTURE YEARS – 2
Edwards is the key here. He has three years left, and with his potential, he could be a star. Xavier Phillips also has the ability to be a top level linebacker, but outside of those two, there are quite a few question marks. Taylor Young was a playmaker in high school, earning All-State honors his senior year, but does he have the size to succeed in the Big 12? Other linebackers have succeeded, but those were exceptions to the rule. Young could be a solid Big 12 player, but he is dealing with several handicaps right from the start.
The loss of James David and T'Kevian Rockwell last year hurt the Bears. We spoke a bit about Rockwell in the Nickel Back preview, but both could have played at the NB or LM spot. Rockwell was a 4-star recruit, and highly coveted. After verbally committing to the Bears, neither signed scholarship papers with Baylor on signing day.
The 2015 class has some potential though, including one of the best linebackers in the country with Malik Jefferson interested in the Bears, though it will be tough for Baylor to win his services. They are also involved in Richard Moore, a Cedar Hill prospect and Anthony Wheeler from Dallas Skyline. However, with the depth issues for next year, another junior college linebacker could emerge late like Grant Campbell, though that won't help much for down the road.
IMPORTANCE – 3
The linebacker position is crucial to the Bears defense, at least that is what Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett says. However, that has not played out on the recruiting trail. The Bears seems to focus more on defensive lineman and athletes to play in the secondary, rather than those mid-sized guys that can move to dominate the middle.
TOTAL – 31
This is a position keyed this year by one of the best linebackers in the Big 12, and some young talent that could grow to that level. However, the lack of talent in the 2014 class and no eminently viable options for 2015 causes this grade to suffer. Hager is a stud, and Edwards could be, but with the lack of future depth and proven performance for 2015, this is a position that will need help moving forward.