The 2015 season saw the Southern Miss Golden Eagles exceed expectations and and the season in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Despite struggling in their last two games (WKU, Washington), the Golden Eagles defense improved significantly from the first two seasons under head coach Todd Monken.
A major reason for the improvement was a linebacker corps that was steady and consistent throughout the year. Things are expected to be anything but steady and consistent from that same position group heading into 2016 spring practice.
Lost To Graduation:
Brian Anderson, MLB: The middle linebacker was the glue that held a group of JUCO and FBS transfers together last fall. The 5-10 linebacker that began his career at Arkansas State started 20 games in two years at Southern Miss. He leaves the program with 148 career tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. He will be a tough player to replace in the middle.
Anthony Swain, WLB: The Auburn transfer was able to make an impact in 2015, starting six games at the weakside linebacker spot. He made 35 tackles, two for loss, in splitting time with Terrick Wright at WLB. He brought some much needed athleticism to the Southern Miss front seven.
Terrick Wright, WLB: The weakside linebacker shared time with Swain in 2015, staring eight games and playing in all 14. He finished the season eighth on the team with 39 tackles. He finished his career with 181 tackles, starting at least one game in all four of his seasons as an active player.
Returning in 2016:
Elijah Parker, SLB: The rising senior linebacker started the season at weakside, but was moved to strongside linebacker and made the final 13 starts at that position. Parker was tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 47. He also finished tied for third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. You can already pencil him in as a starter, barring injury. It would not surprise me to see Parker start at any of the three positions, though SLB is his best natural position.
Jeremy Sangster, MLB: Bred last season as the heir apparent to Anderson in the middle, Sangster has to prove he is ready for such an important role. He only has five career tackles at the college level. Sangster has the size (6-3, 233) to be a star, but will have to earn the position in the spring.
Sherrod Ruff, SLB: The 5-10 junior spent his first season with the Golden Eagles battling injuries and an upperclassmen dominated depth chart. He made his presence known with 24 tackles, but needed time to adapt from JUCO to the FBS ranks. Ruff has the ability to play WLB and even MLB as well as the strong side position he played in 2015. He has a strong chance to find his way on the field at one of the starting spots this fall.
Evan Osborne, SLB: Battling with Ruff for the backup role behind Parker in 2015, Osborne finally made an impact for Southern Miss with 16 tackles. He will get a chance to earn a starting spot, but his best role is as a backup to Parker at SLB.
Darian Yancey: I know, Yancey was a defensive lineman last fall. I would not have listed him in the linebacker grouping, but he is listed as a linebacker on the official 2016 roster. Whether that means that the coaching staff will try to make him a linebacker this fall, or keep him at defensive end will be a something to watch in the spring. He made 13 starts, 32 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks last fall.
D'Nerius Antoine: He is listed as a linebacker on the 2016 roster, so I am listing him in this group. The rising senior was a star at safety, making a team-high 103 tackles. He also added 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, and a team-high four forced fumbles. The most versatile player on the Southern Miss defense, Antoine should see time with both position groups and may not know exactly what position he will play until fall camp.
Collin Kilcrease: The rising sophomore saw action in two games, making one tackle on the season.
Paxton Schrimsher: A 2015 signee, Schrimsher saw no action for the Golden Eagles.
D’Saveon Patrick: Listed as a sophomore, Patrick was part of the 2015 signing class. He saw no action on the field in 2015.
C.J. Perry: A rising senior, Perry saw action in seven games with two tackles. The 6-0 Alabama native has made a total of 56 tackles during his career, 45 coming in his freshman year.
Isaiah Spencer: Another 2015 signee that was part of the team, but never saw the playing field. As with Schrimsher and Patrick, he is listed as a sophomore for 2016.
Isaiah Carter: The rising sophomore is from Louisiana and was a recipient of the Allstate Sugar Bowl $10,000 scholarship in 2015. He was a walk-on for the program in 2015.
With two of the three positions open we could so many different players given a shot. My personal guess would be some combination of the three most talented players on the field: Parker, Antoine, and Ruff. We should find out quite a bit in spring practice, so stay tuned here for more updates.