Cowboy fans have always liked "star" linebacker Shaun Lewis, they have had an up and down appreciation for middle linebacker Caleb Lavey, and a strong infatuation with his back-up Ryan Simmons. Now they can expect to get more of Simmons.
"Things are going to be a little different," said Spencer on signing day when we interviewed him and he detailed how excited he and the defensive staff were about the defensive talent in the 2013 class. "I have the utmost respect for Bill Young, but Bill and I are different in some aspects of defense. We will do some things differently, some different technique and some different schemes."
You can expect that some of those changes will favor the linebackers, and put them in even more position to make plays. After all, they are the most experienced position group on the field this spring, featuring two returning starters and four players in the two deep that played in all 13 games last season and the other two played in 12 games.
At the "star" position, which could see some changes in its responsibilities, Shaun Lewis returns for his senior season with basically three years of starting experience in the Big 12. Lewis would love to have a healthy season and show he is an even better playmaker than he has been.
Joe Mitchell is the backup with two really strong games to close out the 2012 season -- the regular season finale with Baylor and the bowl game against Purdue where he had a key fumble recovery.
Redshirt freshman Seth Jacobs, who has great athletic ability and will now excelerate his education on the field, will be looking to earn playing time.
The question is why Lyndell Johnson isn't mentioned. He has not put on any extra weight as was expected coming out of Plano East HIgh School and he is a tremendous playmaker, so Johnson is heading back to his high school position of safety. He will compete with Shamiel Gary for playing time at strong safety.
The middle linebacker is Caleb Lavey, who might be underappreciated by fans at times. He is a coach on the field that helps put the defenders in the right position. He is strong on video study and play recognition in games. Last season he had 45 solo tackles, 53 overall, with 1.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
The ultra-athletic Ryan Simmons backed Lavey up and with his sideline to sideline quickness was a fan favorite. Now he and Lavey could be on the field together with Simmons taking over for the graduated Alex Elkins at weakside linebacker. Simmons had 23 tackles last season with 19 unassisted and 4.5 tackles for loss and a half sack with one forced fumble.
In truth the pair of Lavey and Simmons is a potential partnership that could create some really great defense in the upcoming season. Lavey is intuitive and has great instincts. He is a strong read linebacker in playing against the offense. Simmons is lightning in a bottle and can explode side to side hunting down the big play opportunities and making sensational highlight reel tackles. Together they have a chance to make each other a lot better.
Backing up Lavey and Simmons will be Kris Catlin and Demarcus Sherod. They can both fit at middle and weakside linebacker spots, so they will take the spring and lock into who feels the most comfortable at each spot.
Lewis, Mitchell and Lavey are all seniors heading into the 2013 season. Catlin, Sherod and Simmons will all be sophomores and Jacobs and Jeremiah Tshimanga, a definite middle linebacker, will be redshirt freshmen. Teddy Johnson is a walk-on that helps a bunch on special teams and can play at linebacker as well.
It is a strong group, mentally with all the experience and physically, and much will be expected out of them. If the defense is going to be better, then the linebackers will have to be a big part of that process. The spring will be very important in making that happen.