Linebacker took a step back last year in the AAC, but there were also a ton of young players. That should mean we see some stars emerge in 2019. Most teams in this conference struggled up front, meaning their defenses were stuck on the field for a long time. Despite the shortcomings, there’s a lot to be excited about in this group. Tulsa had one of the worst defense in the conference, but they have two exciting linebackers to watch. UCF has potential outside of Nate Evans, but the talent is unproven. Will the trend of struggling defenses continue? Probably, but there’s potential for success too.
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 position isn’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.
1. Temple: The Owls return by far the most experienced linebacking corps in the AAC with the top five returnees all being upperclassmen. Shaun Bradley, a first-team All-AAC selection last season, mans the middle of the defense, with Sam Franklin, Chapelle Russell, Isaiah Graham-Mobley and William Kwenkeu all getting significant playing time last season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if several of these guys garner all-conference honors by season’s end.
2. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane defense wasn’t great, but they have two stars at linebacker. Cooper Edmiston returns 237 career tackles, including 9.5 for loss. He also picked off four passes last year, forced three fumbles, and also recovered three fumbles. Joining him will be Zaven Collins, who produced 85 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks. It’s tough to find two more talented players in the conference.
3. Memphis: Bryce Huff took over Genard Avery’s role nicely, finishing the year with 19 tackles for loss. JJ Russell and Tim Hart man the inside backer spots, combining for 123 tackles last year. Memphis also gets playmaker Austin Hall back, and he has a knack for forcing turnovers at clutch times. The Tigers defense must get better this year, but they are loaded with talent at every position, including linebacker.
4. Cincinnati: There was a huge drop off in production for Perry Young, - he recorded 45 total tackles last season after racking up 101 in 2017 - but his game was still respected enough to be named to the All-AAC First Team. He’s joined by Jarrell White, the Bearcats top returning tackler, and Bryan White as starters. Luke Fickell also has a couple linebackers waiting in the wings that could see some quality reps this season.
5. SMU: Injuries resulted in plenty of playing time for a relatively young group last season. Richard Moore returns for his senior season after totaling 92 tackles, 13.5 of which were for a loss, and is surrounded by a linebacking corps of upperclassmen in Delano Robinson, Jordon Williams and Shaine Hailey.
6. ECU: The Pirates’ defensive line should be solid again even without Nate Harvey, which means life will be nice for this group. Aaron Ramseur made 66 tackles last year, including four for loss. Bruce Bivens returns as well and had 62 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks. His 9.5 tackles for loss were fourth on the team. ECU’s front seven remains solid, which will be helpful while they offense works on their chemistry.
Wait and See
7. UCF: There is a hole to fill in the middle of the defense with Pat Jasinski no longer with the program, but Nate Evans and Eric Mitchell should man the two outside linebacker spots. Sophomore Eriq Gilyard is expected to take over at MLB, but there isn’t a ton of experience on the roster otherwise.
8. Tulane: The Green Wave did lose Zachery Harris, the leading tackler from last season, but Marvin Moody and Lawrence Graham were excellent in their own right a year ago. With that said, there is not a lot of experience at linebacker behind Moody and Graham in Tulane’s 4-2-5 defense.
9. USF: If the Bulls are to improve this year, they’ll need better play from their linebackers. When Auggie Sanchez left, there was a big hole remaining. Some thought Nico Sawtelle would fill his shoes, but that wasn’t the case. He finished tenth on the team in tackles, and the secondary had too many guys near the top in total tackles. Charlie Strong has things to fix offensively, but there’s work to do on this side of the ball too.
Room for Improvement
10. Houston: Joe Cauthen’s new scheme requires less linebackers, but hopefully that means better play. Leroy Godfrey and David Anenih are the only returners, but there’s potential joining them. Both could see time on the defensive line given their skillsets. Terrance Edgeston is a favorite to win a starting job after coming from junior college, and someone else needs to join him. Grant Stuard could see time at both defensive back and linebacker too in Cauthen’s 4-2-5 scheme.
11. Navy: Typically when you see mostly juniors and seniors on the roster, there is something to be excited about. Not with this group. Nizaire Cromartie is the only returnee with extensive playing time. Tyler Pistorio and Diego Fagot are expected to start, but have a combined 17 tackles between them.
12. UConn: No surprise here. UConn wasn’t great at this position last year, but there’s a reason for that. Their top two returning tacklers at the position, Kevon Jones and Eddie Hahn, were young. Notre Dame transfer DJ Morgan gives them a Power 5 talent, but he only played in two games in his three years with the Irish.