The SMU linebacking group will have to transition into the no name conference without not only two of their best players but two of the most active leaders and playmakers on the team. Linebackers Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed acted as the anchors of the defense and with their departures (along with the departure of former starter Cameron Rogers), it is now time for the players they have mentored to step up and make an impact.
Stephon Sanders, 6-3, 230, JR
Jonathan Yenga, 6-2, 205, SO
Brandon Henderson, 6-2, 229, SR
John Bordano, 6-2, 235, JR
Kevin Pope, 5-10, 225, SR
Bryan Dewey, 6-0, 210, RS-FR
Derek Longoria, 6-2, 225, SO
Uchenna Nwabuike, 6-1, 225, JR
Randall Joyner, 5-10, 228, SR
Robert Seals, 6-3, 230, SO
Jordan Miller, 6-3, 215, JR
Lincoln Richard, 6-3, 215, FR
Jarvis Pruitt, 6-3, 220, RS-FR
Strengths: Athleticism and Low Mileage
Weaknesses: Size and Starting Experience
With the losses of Davis and Reed it will be interesting to see if their predecessors can step in and have exceptional years or if there will be a noticeable drop off in production. Joyner had a very good season last year and eventually commandeered the starting inside linebacker position next to Reed after Rogers fell to injury. Joyner is incredibly smart, a natural leader and has earned defensive coordinator Tom Mason's trust.
Pope has seen a decent amount of playing time but has never received the opportunity to be a full-time starter. Since his transition to defense, Pope has done very well especially on special teams. Paired with Joyner, Pope should get better throughout the spring and summer and will play a key role on the defense in the fall. Sanders had a quiet year for the Mustangs in 2012 but is poised to return with a strong season and Seals, who June Jones has raved about, is the favorite right now to rush off the other edge.
Behind the starters there are a few guys looking to use the spring to propel them up the depth charts to challenge for playing time. Senior Henderson will likely be the guy who gets the most playing time outside of the starters. Longoria has seen time with the second teamers and hasn't looked bad. Yenga, brother of former SMU linebacker Youri, is a bit undersized but could earn some reps if he impresses this spring and perhaps the guy who could come out of the wood work and make the most noise this spring is redshirt freshman Lincoln Richard.
What to Watch: Outside Linebacker
The question mark is who is going to start opposite Sanders. Before last season, Jones made a comment that Robert Seals would be the breakout player of the year but his play did little to substantiate the claim partially because his playing time was limited being behind Davis. Now that no one is in front of him, it is time for Seals to step up and prove that he deserves to be a starter because it is his job to lose. He has great size and power and he possesses enough speed to come around the edge. This spring Seals' performance will be carefully evaluated. If he fails to seal the deal, he might face some hungry competition.
Breakout Player: Kevin Pope
Pope is in a great position to succeed lining up next to a guy like Joyner. They both are going into their fourth years at SMU so they have the chemistry. Pope has transitioned to linebacker very well and blossomed into an important player for the Mustangs last year. He has had enough time to study the ins-and-outs of the 3-4 scheme, and he knows what Mason expects from his inside linebackers because he watched Reed, Rogers and even Pete Fleps do it for a while. Pope has the ability to cover ground quickly and is not afraid to put his nose into a chest. Once he gets comfortable with his role as a starter, expect him to become better each week.
Keep An Eye On: Lincoln Richard
Richard must be considered when discussing the most athletic player on the team. He is fast, he can jump and he is relentless. In high school, Richard was a jack of all trades; running the ball, catching it and getting to the quarterback. Richard played in a 4-3 with his hands in the dirt, but he will be more effective as a 3-4 outside linebacker, where he can stand up and rush off the edge. Richard does play a tad bit high at times and needs to be more disciplined when finishing plays and making tackles but do not be surprised if you see his name show up in our practice notes. He has long arms but he needs to bulk up. He is listed at 6-foot-3 215-pounds, but he looks a little lankier than that in person. If Richard can make plays this spring and show a commitment to putting on weight, he may have a shot to compete with Seals by the time the summer rolls around.
- Richard will see some time after not being listed on the two-deep
- Yenga will see more time than expected
- Joyner will step up as the leader of the entire defense
- Seals will live up to the hype
Pony Stampede Spring Preview: Linebackers
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