Last year's linebacking crew contained two of the Mustangs' most productive, explosive and game breaking players in Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis who combined for 184 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Fortunately, both of these stalwarts will return this year for the mustangs alongside senior Cameron Rogers and sophomore Stephon Sanders.
Ja'Gared Davis did everything and then some for the Mustangs last year. With uncanny athleticism, a motor and a mean streak, it seems he just had a knack for making big plays. Davis, who started every game for the Mustangs, continually made game changing plays off of the weak side edge, constantly making his presence known to opposing backfields.
Davis was named to the Dave Campbell's All-Texas First Team, All-C-USA Second Team, and earned the National Defensive Player of the Week award after having a sensational outing against UTEP, where he finished with eight tackles (2.5) for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown against UTEP.
By season's end Davis managed to rack up the most tackles for loss on the team with 12, along with 83 tackles, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The other half of the dynamic duo was inside linebacker Taylor ‘Tank' Reed. For those who haven't read Publisher E.J. Holland's player profile on Reed, here is an excerpt.
'They don't call Reed ‘tank' for nothing. The SMU linebacker was absolutely dominant last season as he punished opposing ball carriers and notched tackle after tackle. You can bet everyone felt like they had just been steamrolled after the tank laid the wood.'
Reed led the Mustangs with 101 tackles (9.5 for loss) along with four sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. Reed was chosen to be on the Lombardi Award watch list, which honors the nation's best lineman or linebacker and is also a member of the preseason All-C-USA team.
In addition to Davis and Reed, senior linebacker Cameron Rogers is looking to step up and have a big year. As the Buck linebacker in the Mustangs 3-4 scheme, Rogers has played decently next to Reed but will have to make more big plays especially around the ball. With another year at the position, Rogers should be more comfortable and hopefully he can prove some of his doubters wrong with a strong final campaign.
The last starting linebacker for the Mustangs is sophomore Stephon Sanders who came on big at the end of the season. Sanders started only five games in the second half of the Mustangs' schedule but made some big plays for the Mustang defense including a heads up interception against Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Sanders will line up on the strong side and at 6-foot-3 230-pounds, he should also be able to get his hands on some balls thrown his direction and have no problem staying with tight ends and running backs in coverage. He also recorded three sacks for the Mustangs last year and can cause some disruption off the edge not unlike the guy on the other side of Rogers and Tank.
Some other linebackers who will be thrown into the mix are Randall Joyner, Jonathan Yenga, Robert Seals, and Kevin Pope. Jonathan, brother of former SMU starter at linebacker Youri Yenga, will compete for playing time behind Rogers after redshirting his freshman season. Head Coach June Jones highlighted Seals, who also red-shirted his freshman season, at media days by saying that he is looking for him to have a breakout season.
Pope and Joyner are both juniors and have seen some decent playing time during the careers on the Hilltop. Pope, who played running back his freshman season, stepped in nicely when both inside linebackers needed breaks. He is still developing at the position but can certainly lay the wood. Joyner is athletic and can play both inside and outside linebacker. He's also a key contributor on special teams and a vocal leader on the field.
Pony Stampede Two-Deep:
SAM: 1. Stephon Sanders 2. Randall Joyner
BUCK: 1. Cameron Rogers 2. Jonathan Yenga
MIKE: 1. Taylor Reed 2. Kevin Pope
WILL: 1. Ja'Gared Davis 2. Robert Seals
Others to Watch:
Jr. Brandon Henderson, So. Uchenna Nwabuike, Jr. Lincoln Schick, Sr. Cody Worthen, Fr. Damien Neroes, Fr. Lincoln Richard
Position Preview: Linebackers
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