With every new season, programs deal with roster turnover. Some of the AAC’s best linebackers in recent memory have moved on, leaving some coaches with some holes to fill this summer. Others will welcome back starters and hope to build on last year’s results.
One thing you’ll see often in this piece is a stud linebacker that is no longer with the program. The biggest name that’s no longer in the conference is Shaquem Griffin, who became a household name leading up to being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, Navy and UConn, our top two units entering 2017, are two of several teams looking to replace multiple starters at linebacker.
On the flip side, some coaches expect their linebacker group to be even better in 2018. We ranked the Temple Owls pretty low entering last season, but their youth got an opportunity to play.
This is how we break up the conference: Elite, Second Tier, Wait and See, and Room for Improvement.
Room for Improvement: Your team can definitely get better. Even if your team has a returning starter, there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Wait and See: Most likely, your team is going through a transition to a new starter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means the new face has to prove themselves.
Second Tier: Good not great. The players aren’t elite yet, but may be right on the doorstep.
Elite: The best of the best. Most likely competing for an All-Conference spot. Also helps to have depth at the position.
2018 Position Reviews: QB, RB, WR/TE, OL, DL
Temple: Last year, we wrote about the inexperience the Owls had at this position. A year later, they are the most productive group returning. Shaun Bradley did a great job taking over the middle, while Chapell Russell, Sam Franklin and William Kwenkeu all received significant playing time. Geoff Collins also has Todd Jones and Isaiah Graham-Mobley in the wings.
Memphis: Genard Avery got much of the publicity after racking up 8.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss, but it was Curtis Akins that led the team in tackles last season and was fourth in 2016. The Tigers also have some young talent on the roster as Tim Hart and Bryce Huff saw extensive playing time as underclassmen. They also have depth behind those guys in the event of an injury.
UCF: Griffin was spectacular in his years with the Knights, but Pat Jasinski made a name for himself by racking up 104 tackles. Titus Davis started every game at outside linebacker last season, giving Randy Shannon a solid duo in the middle of the defense while they find someone to replace Griffin’s productivity.
Cincinnati: Jaylyin Minor finished 10th in the nation with 125 tackles, but he’s moved on. That would be troublesome for most teams, but not far behind Minor was teammate Perry Young, who totaled 101 tackles in 2017. With Jarell White and tweener Kevin Mouhon also returning and an influx of talent on the roster, the Bearcats have a terrific young group at linebacker.
Tulsa: Cooper Edmiston finished with 106 tackles last season, the most of any returning linebacker in the AAC. Edmiston will have Diamon Cannon and Petera Wilson alongside him once again, giving the Golden Hurricane one of the more experienced units in the conference.
SMU: In order for the Sonny Dykes era to get off on the right foot, he needs his defense to at least make a few stops a game. Kyran Mitchell is back after leading the team in tackles for loss (15.5), 4.5 of which were sacks. The Mustangs will also have Jordan Williams and Shaine Hailey returning.
Wait and See
USF: Auggie Sanchez is no longer with the program after leading the Bulls in tackles last season, but Nico Sawtelle and Greg Reaves will both return. Reaves led the team with 14 tackles for loss, including four sacks, while Sawlette will be in his second season as a starter. Behind those two, there is limited experience on the roster.
Houston: D’Juan Hines and Matthew Adams were the top two tacklers for the Coogs, but both have found new homes in the NFL. Emeke Egbule finished fifth on the team in tackles and they’re going to need him to lead the group as Leroy Godfrey is the only other linebacker on the roster to post double-digit tackles last season. Fortunately, playing behind Ed Oliver does make things easier for this linebacking corp.
Room for improvement
ECU: A similar theme you’ve read throughout our position previews is it can only go up from here for the Pirates after finishing as one of the worst defenses in the nation. Scottie Montgomery was forced to play freshman Aaron Ramseur last season, who led them in turnovers with two interceptions, and finished fourth on the team in tackles. Cannon Gibbs will also see extensive playing time, but behind those two, it’s a guessing game.
Tulane: The Green Wave are thankful Zachery Harris is back because outside of him, no returning linebacker posted more than 20 tackles last season. Tulane has one of the tougher schedules in the conference so the lack of playing time could be problematic, especially early on with games against Wake Forest and Ohio State.
Navy: Micah Thomas and D.J. Palmore combined for 156 tackles, 16.5 of which were for a loss, as well as three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles last season. The problem is they have graduated and the only returning player to post more than 20 tackles is Hudson Sullivan.
UConn: We mentioned the Huskies in the opening paragraphs as one of the teams losing multiple studs as Junior Joseph and Vontae Diggs won’t be back. They also lost two other seniors at the position which leaves them with little depth. Chris Britton will have to be the leader of this group, but it remains to be seen who joins him at linebacker.