We’ve made it to my favorite position, the linebackers! I always get excited when I get to talk about the defensive side of the ball, and even more so when we can narrow it down to linebackers. If we look at the Mustangs linebackers in 2014 a couple of storylines stick out to me—let’s call them the okay, the kind of okay, and the not so okay.
The okay: Stephon Sanders, Kevin Pope, Jonathan Yenga, and Robert Seals (above) were four of SMU’s top tacklers. No one on this team lived up to the expectations we placed on them at the beginning of the season, but these five guys did well. Sanders had 70 tackles, Yenga had 65, Pope had 49, and Seals had 48. Sanders was solid, so was Yenga. Everyone else was kind of average and that’s okay (for last year’s 1-11 team).
The kind of okay: John Bordano was a pleasant surprise last season. No one was expecting him to contribute as much as he did, but the senior finished the season with 45 tackles in 11 games (six starts). And who can forget his 12 tackle performance against Houston, which he capped with his first career interception.
The not so okay: Remember those guys we were all so hyped over going into camp? Caleb Tuiasosopo and Cameron Nwosu were probably the most disappointing. Tuisosopo continued to battle little injuries here and there and was never overly impressive when he did get into the game- same with Nwosu. On paper both of those guys are better athletes than Bordano, yet the coaching staff went with him anyway. That’s neither here nor there—point is, they were incredibly disappointing.
Oh and before I forget—Beau Barnes. Remember how interim head coach Tom Mason hid him on the Mustang bench as a linebacker in a season where SMU desperately needed pass rushers. Yea, that was a thing that happened.Grade C-
Admittedly, every time I look at anything this team did last year I throw up in my mouth a little bit—but if I can get past it last night’s chicken tacos, you can get past the fact that this group of linebackers where largely underwhelming last year. To make things even more unsettling, three of your more productive linebackers in 2014, graduated and won’t be on the roster this season (Sanders, Pope, Bordano). That being said you can’t underestimate the power of a coaching/scheme change.
In a 4-2-5, SMU’s linebackers will need to be solid enough to plug holes, but agile enough to cover a lot of ground—so athletes. They will need to be athletes. That’s not asking too much is it? You got some young blood coming in with guys that fit that mold (McNew and Williams), and there are some veterans coming back that…kind of fit that mold (Horton, Yenga, Seals, Longoria). The Idea is that Van Malone can make the guys that are here the kind if athletes he needs in his system.
Okay, maybe this comes a bit of a shock to some of you because thus far I haven’t talked about one of these guys that much and I also haven’t been too thrilled about anyone else I’ve mentioned. However, a Horton and Yenga (above) combo in the middle of this defense feels good. Like, it feels good in the way that a fresh pair of socks feels when you get out of the shower—which is strange because we already have a bit of an idea what we are going to get out of them.
Yenga is a good athlete, he’s just a tad undersized (6-1, 219) but that just means he gives you that range I was talking about earlier. He can read plays wel and is a pretty solid tackler despite his lack of size. Part of that is his ability to make reads and get to his spots.
Horton is the bigger of the two at 6-2, 240 and he gives you what Yenga doesn’t—the ability to just stand there and plug a hole. He isn’t nearly as fast as Yenga, but he doesn’t exactly lumber around either. In a way, the two complete each other.
Seals, Longoria, Mitchell, Rhone, and (ugh) Tuiasosopo will be your best bets at the immediate back-ups. I imagine we’ll have some of the younger guys step up too, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The newbies are promising, but I just don’t see them jumping all the way up the depth chart instantly. I mean, look at how many linebackers are on this roster, it’s kind of insane for just two positions.
Just based on what I saw last season, and from having to double check on who some of these guys are, I don’t expect to see too much from White, Cox, Carroll, Smith or Werhen. I’ve been wrong before, but again, there are only two spots. Odds are stacked against most of these guys getting playing time.
For the most part, a lot of the freshmen are undersized…but so is Yenga. I look at McNew because he is a little longer than Yenga and just as heavy…or light depending on your disposition. Point is: he has similar skills and could be a potential freshman contributor. Corbett is another one that could be ready to go on the strong side with his length and smarts. If Corbett can put on some weight, the extremely athletic Corbett will have a chance to compete early for playing time as a backup.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Leo 2- Seals
Leo 3- Rhone
Mike 1- Horton
Mike 2- Longoria
Mike 3- Tuiasosopo