Southwest Round-Up Unit Rankings: Linebackers

There was a time kids when linebackers were the most important players on a defensive unit. Entire schemes were developed to allow linebackers to flow free and easy to the ball and make tackles. Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Ray Nitschke, and on and on were monsters in the middle who ran sideline to sideline, filled holes, and terrified children.

Those days are gone. Starting in the late 80's the position changed. The U started moving oversized safeties to linebacker and the position became predicated on speed. Today modern 4-2-5 schemes eliminate a linebacker from the base set in order to get more speed and coverage on the field. It's all changing for our friends the linebackers and stats must change with them.  

We looked at linebackers as a hybrid of run game and pass game defenders. Therefore we took into account a teams success defending the pass on standard down and distance scenarios as well as short yardage situations.  

We feel good about our rankings and we don't care what you think. 

Ray Nitschke
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Texas returns all their starters and their reserves as well. The depth should help, but this is an area that must improve if the Longhorns D is going to improve. They get Jordan Hicks back and that addition alone will be a huge boost. None of this matters if they don’t tackle better.

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This would be a stronger pick if Joel Hasley hadn’t left the program during fall camp. The Frogs return Jonathan Anderson who saw some time last year has Hasley’s backup, but was undersized at 208. Someone took Anderson to a Golden Corral because he’s bulked up and will be joined by another experienced reservist Marcus Mallet.

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Last season if Baylor wanted a win, they had to get to at least 38 points on offense to do so. The upside was if you wanted to outscore Baylor you had to get to 45 points. Regardless the Bears need to improve on defense and they get a big lift from having Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey back. The dynamic duo made a lot of tackles last year. Somebody had to.

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Tech’s front seven returns fully 90% of their tackles in 2012. The linebackers have a lot of experience but still lack some size to really stop a team that decides it’s going to run. Tech was young last year and it showed, this group should improve.

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Steven Jenkins is the only returning starter from a LB corps that was the glue of a vastly improved A&M defense. The good news is Donnie Baggs played a fair amount, the bad news is no one else did. The two deep is chock full of guys who haven’t sniffed an SEC game. That’s kind of a big deal.

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Cameron Nwosu was second on the Owls in tackles last year with 73, he’s back and so is James Radcliff. Rice’s backers will be helped by a line that was pretty good rushing passer but not great stopping the run, still Rice should be better thanks to the returning depth at both positions.

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We like us some Derrick Matthews. The junior had 86 stops a year ago and even if he’s a bit undersized he can run and make plays. He’s joined by George Bamfo and Efrem Oliphant, after that there’s no more experience so if any of these guys go down, it’s a crap shoot.

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UNT gets two linebackers back: Zachary Orr and Derek Akunne. They’ll pair with Will Wright on a unit that needs to improve playing the run. The Mean Green also return a fair amount of depth with 5 of their top 6 from 2012 coming back.

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The key at linebacker for SMU is the one they call Rambo – Randall Joyner. Joyner is the lone returning starter. Last season the Mustangs were a top 20 run team according to the statistics. This year with a new front four that success will be hard to duplicate.

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A.J. Ropati is the lone starter back out in the West Texas town of El Paso. See what I did there. The Miners struggled stopping much of anything last year. Ropati and his mates will benefit from defensive coordinator Scott Stoker’s tutelage.

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Steven Kurfehs and the combo of Drew Douglas and Blake Terry were not as productive as they could have been but they weren’t bad. They lost Brandon Reeves but in the 4-2-5 scheme they have plenty of depth. Now they just have to get better.

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David Mayo returns to play significant minutes for the Bobcats. He’ll be joined by the much-maligned Michael Orakpo, brother of Brian as in the Washington Redskins version. If Orakpo improves the Bobcats physically it would be a huge help and significantly upgrade the position.