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Linebackers key to Orlando’s defense

Redshirt freshman linebacker Steven Taylor caught an interception during the Cougars' 24-17 loss on Saturday.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

In new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s 3-4 scheme, the linebacker position plays a crucial role as the teeth of the defense when the Cougars take the field.

“Those guys have to play well. If we don’t play well at linebacker, we will not be a good defense,” Orlando said.

Without several major contributors from recent years, the position will be in the hands of young, largely unproven players in 2015.

“It’s a work in progress,” Orlando said. “I coached the position, I know where we need to get to, and we are not there.”

If this defense is to take the next step, Orlando must quickly mold this group into the physical bunch that his defenses have come to rely on.

“There is going to be a lot of pressure on these guys,” Orlando said. “They know, and we remind them in meeting rooms, that it is not only about that part of it, it’s leadership in the middle of the defense, and they have to play at a high level.”

Inside linebacker Matthew Adams (6’0”, 208) – As a true freshman, Adams hit the ground running, seeing action in all 13 games last year and even starting in Houston’s comeback victory in the Armed Forces Bowl.

His first collegiate year was promising for his future, finishing with 40 total tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Adams immediate success should not be a surprise considering his decorated high school career, where he received numerous honors, most notably being named the 2013 District 23-5A Defensive Player of the Year and making the District 23-5A First Team as a junior and senior.

If 2014 was any indication, Adams should become the anchor of the defense for years to come, starting this season.

ILB Elandon Roberts (6’0”, 230) – This former transfer from Morgan State appeared in 12 games for Houston in 2014 as a linebacker and special teams contributor.

He put up decent numbers last year, tallying 26 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and sacking the QB once, but closed the season on a high note in the bowl game, where he co-led the defense with nine tackles in a very active performance.

Given the chance at a starting role, Roberts could post similar numbers to those he put up at Morgan state, where he led the team with 107 tackles, nine for a loss as well as two sacks and an interception.

Outside linebacker Steven Taylor (6’1”, 220) – While making 10 starts at linebacker in 2014, Taylor finished as the second leading tackler on the team with 76 stops, including nine tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles, proving that he can be a handful for offenses to contend with.

The Cedar Hill native made several preseason prognosticator’s lists in 2015, including Dave Campbell’s Preseason All-Texas First Team and will be one of the young leaders to step up this year.

Under the tutelage of Orlando, the junior should become the top pass rusher on the team and make a push for defensive MVP.

OLB Tyus Bowser (6’3”, 228) – This junior from Tyler has been a part of the rotation of pass rushers for the Cougars since 2013, racking up 7.5 sacks and nine tackles for a loss in that time.

With the size and pass rush ability that Orlando looks for, Bowser should thrive as a starter and form a nice duo with Taylor.

Best of the rest- Having a fresh group of defenders during a game can mean all the difference between winning and losing, so a solid group of rotational players is important.

OLB Ralph Harvey Jr. (6’4”, 225) is a junior college transfer from El Camino College, who posted 71 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, one sack and two picks in nine games and should be a solid rotational player.

ILBs Luke Stice (6’0”, 235) and D’Juan Hines (6’2”, 208) should both see increased roles on defense and have the experience to contribute in a phases of the game.

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