After a slow start, the SMU linebackers regained top form this season despite injuries to senior Cameron Rogers, which limited him all year long. The linebacking corps showed great production from arguably two of the team's best players in Taylor Reed and J.G. Davis, the latter of which earned first team all-conference honors. Davis finished third on the team in tackles with 71 to go along with two sacks and nine tackles for loss. However, it was the takeaways that separated Davis from the pack. The senior snagged two interceptions, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and found the end zone twice this year. Reed, who earned second team all-conference honors lead the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, finished second with 88 total tackles to go along with two interceptions and a touchdown.
The linebacker group also benefitted from the surprise emergence of Randall Joyner who assumed a full-time starting role after the Rogers injury and played superbly. Joyner led the team in tackles and even earned recognition as the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week for his 14 tackles and two interceptions against UTEP. Stephon Sanders, who was expected to have a breakout year, was very quiet this season but did have a few splash plays such as his interception for a touchdown against Houston.
Reed, Davis and Joyner made plays consistently and stepped up as the leaders of the defense. After a season in which the secondary was ravaged by injuries and the pass rush was consistently inconsistent, the linebackers added stability and did a great job of forcing turnovers and keeping SMU in games. SMU ranked second in the conference behind Tulsa in rushing defense allowing just 129 yards per game and holding their opponents to just 14 rushing touchdowns combined good for fewest in the conference. Overall, SMU ranked fourth in the conference in total defense in large part because of this group. They weren't perfect however, especially towards the beginning of the season. They have all had moments where they missed key tackles in big games i.e. Davis missing the TFL against Baylor springing their running back up the sideline, and Reed missing a number of sack and TFL opportunities with the most notable against Johnny Manziel at home. All in all though, the linebackers were the core of the defense and the bright spot on the team this year. SMU surely wouldn't be going to Hawaii without them.
Next year SMU will have to accommodate for the losses of Ja'Gared Davis, Taylor Reed as well as Cameron Rogers all of whom were starters and huge pieces of the defense. Joyner should do fine filling in for Rogers and Sanders has the ability to step up into a primetime role next year. That leaves the other two spots vacant. Kevin Pope has good speed for the position and has made plays on special teams and in filling in for Reed on occasion. He can come in and be solid next to Joyner leaving the other outside linebacker slot open.
Linebacker Robert Seals was supposed to be a breakthrough player this year according to head coach June Jones but did not get many opportunities to show his skill. He should be the favorite to take over Davis' spot next year and he has some big shoes to fill. Other linebackers to keep an eye on are Derek Longoria, Brandon Henderson, Jonathan Yenga, and Lincoln Richard who will all be looking to compete for playing time as well.
Position Review: Linebackers
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