Returning: John Bordano (Jr- SQ), Carlos Carroll (Fr.), Nick Horton (Fr.), Derek Longoria (So.), Jordan Miller (Jr.-SQ), Jackson Mitchell (Fr.), Uchenna Nwabuike (Jr.), Stephon Sanders (Jr.), Robert Seals (So.), Ben Sellers (So- SQ), Jonathan Yenga (So.).
Incoming: Lance Cottrell, Chris Jefferson, Anthony Rhone, Kyran Mitchell, Caleb Tuiasosopo (JUCO)
Leaving: Brandon Henderson, Randall Joyner, Kevin Pope
2013 Takeaways: This year's linebacking crew, led by Randall Joyner and Kevin Pope, had an overall solid season. Joyner (98 tackles) and Pope (91 tackles) were the team's best defensive players because of their consistency and physical play. Some of the younger linebackers also played prominent roles this season. Jonathan Yenga led the team with six sacks, while Stephon Sanders was also a major contributor with 86 tackles and Robert Seals contributed when needed with 25 total tackles and two sacks. While Joyner and Pope will be missed, SMU has some young pieces in place to continue their success at the position.
2014 Outlook: Stephon Sanders was one the Mustangs' most consistent players in 2013, and now that Pope and Joyner are gone, Sanders, who started all 12 games, will have to step up as one of the leaders on the team. Sanders has the ability to stop the run (13.5 tackles for loss), rush the passer (3.5 sacks) and drop back in coverage (1 interception, 2 bass break ups), so the Mesquite native will do it all for the Mustangs in 2014. Sanders put together a solid junior campaign, but expect his senior year to be even better.
Jonathan Yenga has the highest ceiling among the linebackers returning in 2014. Yenga, who saw playing time at both inside and outside linebacker, will most likely be moved inside because of the departures of Joyner and Pope-- even though he really did excel at outside linebacker. Yenga has a great mix of athleticism, power and speed off of the edge and should really come into his own this coming season. SMU struggled to get to the quarterback in 2013, but Yenga, who had six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, should improve even more and really pose a threat to opposing offenses.
Yenga did have his struggles and inconsistencies, but the Euless Trinity product should head into spring ball with more confidence now that the starting job is his. Expect Yenga to have a breakout season, similar to the one his teammate Beau Barnes had in 2013.
In 2014, SMU will need Robert Seals to step up and play up to his potential. Come spring, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior will likely be penciled in as one of the starting outside linebackers again, so Seals will have to play with more consistency if he doesn't want to lose his job like he did this season. Seals' speed and length help him when it comes to rushing the passer, but the Pearland native could use some improvement when it comes to stopping the run. Seals, who Jones said would be a breakout player this past season, is surrounded by a great duo in Yenga and Sanders, so expect him to take after them and step up when he is called upon.
With three of the four linebacker spots likely locked up and the departure of Lincoln Richard, John Bordano and Caleb Tuiasosopo will be left to battle it out for the final starting spot. While Bordano is a big, physical linebacker who plays down hill and is a solid run-stopper, he is not as athletic as Tuiasosopo. Although Tuiasosopo has had significant knee problems, he showed this season while playing for Tyler JC that he can stay healthy and be productive (86 tackles). Tiuasosopo is a motivated player, so he is my pick to win the starting job out of spring ball. But don't be surprised if Nwabuike makes some noise this spring as well.
Bold Prediction: Both Jonathan Yenga and Stephon Sanders will make a postseason All-AAC team; whether that's first or second team remains to be seen.
Projected Depth Chart:
ILB 1: Jonathan Yenga
ILB 2: Caleb Tuiasosopo
ILB 3: John Bordano
ILB 4: Uchenna Nwabuike
OLB 1: Stephon Sanders
OLB 2: Robert Seals
OLB 3: Derek Longoria
OLB 4: Nick Horton
An Early Look At 2014: Linebackers
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