There should be no surprise who the three starting linebackers for the Trojans will be in 2012. If you don’t know their names, you should. They introduced themselves last season. This is an extremely talented bunch that now has experience to know what it takes to be successful in Monte Kiffin’s defense.
Lamar Dawson will be the starting middle linebacker (Mike) and is the current occupant at Club 55. If you know anything about Trojan history, you know that being a member of Club 55 is a big deal and not just anyone has the honor of donning this number. Dawson got to cut his teeth as a stater over the last 4 games of the 2011 season. As the Mike Backer, Dawson will be an extension of defensive coordinator Kiffin on the field. He will be responsible for making everyone is lined up correctly and making the proper checks to changes by the offense. His role is very vital to the success of the overall defense. Look for a stellar year out of this silent assassin. Currently backing up Dawson is true freshman Scott Starr. Starr enrolled in January and made the transition from outside linebacker to the middle. He should have a good grasp of the defense by now.
Dion Bailey returns as the strong side outside linebacker (Sam). As a freshman Baily was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Freshman of the Year by College Football News, Second Team All Pac-12, and Freshman All-American. He turned in 81 tackles to share the team lead while also turning in 2 interceptions and 2 sacks. At 210 pounds, Bailey is a strong safety playing linebacker, but he plays bigger than he is. He is a tough nosed, relentless player who leaves it all on the field. His 4.5 speed allows him to stay in the game in pass packages and match up against slot receivers. This versatility makes him valuable as an every down player. As a testament to his ability, Bailey is on the watch list for every major defensive award. Backing him this year will most likely be Marquis Simmons. Also look for Starr to factor in here as a back up.
The team’s other co-leader in tackles in 2011 was Hayes Pullard, who returns as the weakside outside linebacker (Will). Pullard a Freshman All-American and Honorable Mention All Pac-12 player is the third member is this young but talented trio. He is another player with outstanding speed, which is something the Trojans having been focusing on in building this defensive unit. Pullard put his speed on display against Oregon last season while racking up 14 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Like the other two starting linebackers, he has the ability to play sideline to sideline. He plays with great instinct and passion. Backing Pullard up will be redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao who was named the defensive scout team player in 2011.
This trio is the best bunch of linebackers that have played at Troy since Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, and Brian Cushing. They will be integral to the success of the defense in 2012. Look for these three to be all over the field!