Then junior Stephon Sanders was arguable the Mustangs’ most talented linebacker, racking up 86 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Sophomore Jonathan Yenga added 11 more tackles for loss while fellow sophomore Robert Seals also saw some important playing time at the beginning of the season before tailing off.
Joyner, however, was the leader of this group and his play spoke for itself (98 tackles, 5 TFLs). SMU’s linebackers did struggle getting to the quarterback, like the rest of the defense, which did in fact comeback to hurt them on third and fourth downs.
Key Departures: Randall Joyner
2014 Outlook: With the return of nearly every key linebacker, SMU’s linebacker group should take a step in the right direction, but that will all depend on transfers Cameron Nwosu and Caleb Tuiasosopo
With Kevin Pope’s move to running back likely keeping him from playing on the defensive side of the ball, Nwosu, Tuiasosopo, sophomore Nick Horton and even incoming freshman Inoke Ngalo will have to be ready to step up and play meaningful snaps.
Another key for this group will be the development of their pass rushing. SMU’s defense gave up 33 points per game last season, but with Neal Burcham now running the show on offense, SMU wont be winning very many games if they continue to give up over 30 points per game. This group returning comes back more experienced, and should bring some improved play along with them.
Unknown to Watch: As a junior, Cameron Nwosu was a Conference-USA honorable mention while racking up 92 tackles. The rising senior was poised to have a stellar senior season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. After graduating from Rice, Nwosu made the decision to transfer to SMU, where he will likely see important playing time with the departures of Randall Joyner (graduation) and Kevin Pope (moved to running back). At 5-10, 240-pounds, Nwosu is actually quite quick for his size, and if he can come in and learn the defensive scheme, could actually fit in nicely on the Mustangs’ defense. The Mustangs are thin at inside linebacker, so don’t be surprised to see June Jones use a combination of Yenga, Tuiasosopo and Nwosu at the position.
Star of the Group: Ranked as a three-star prospect out of high school, Jonathan Yenga, now a junior, spurned offers from Oklahoma State, Arizona, Duke, Minnesota and Tulsa among others to play for the same team that his older brother Youri played for. Yenga came into his own last season and truly made an impact even just as a sophomore. Now an upperclassman, expect Yenga to take over as one of the leaders of this linebacker group. Because SMU is so thin at inside linebacker, June Jones has talked about moving Yenga inside, and even has him listed as the MIKE starter, but his production shouldn’t take a hit.
PonyStampede Depth Chart:
1. 23 - Stephon Sanders 2. 25 - Derek Longoria
1. 52 - Cameron Nwosu 2. 5 - Nick Horton 3. 2 – Caleb Tuiasosopo
1. 1 - Jonathan Yenga 2. 44 - Jackson Mitchell 3. 2 – Caleb Tuiasosopo
1. 30 - Robert Seals 2. 57 - Jordan Miller