Outside of WR the linebackers lost more production in terms of numbers than any other group. Akeem Dent let the team with 125 tackles. Houston was the runaway leader with 19.5 TFL and 11 sacks. Overall the linebackers lost 288 tackles (33% of the team total) 34.5 TFL (34.5% of team total) and 15 sacks (62.5%). While technically not losing all four starters (Washington and Robinson both started) they did lose 4 guys who started at some point, Gamble, Downtin, Houston and Dent. Dent was a tackling machine while Houston was responsible for 1/4 the teams TFL and one shy of half their sacks.
This group will be hard to replace but the group doing it will be a much more athletic group. Washington slides over to his more natural position by switching which outside position he plays, going from the more balanced side to take Houston's position as the primary pass rusher. I don't expect him to put the same numbers as Houston but his production should jump from where it was last year. He will be pushed for playing time by Ray Drew who most expect to be ready to compete with him right away as one of the top recruits in the nation.
Taking over at the other outside LB position will be Jarvis Jones, a former 5 star recruit who has been in college for 3 years now, playing one year at Southern Cal and sitting out last year for a redshirt to fully heal from an injury. All reports point to Jones having an instant impact and possibly being a better rounded player than Houston was last year. He should offer the ability to pass rush from his position but also be better at covering TE's and RB's than any OLB we had last year.
Manning one inside position will be Robinson. He is experienced, talented and is expected to be the leader of the defense. He is the top returning tackler amongst this group and his production should shoot up as he will no longer be splitting time with Dowtin. The other inside position will be filled by Alec Ogletree who moved this spring from his starting position at safety. He is a big hitter with a ton of speed and should fill in well for the graduated Dent. Richard Samuel could provide some depth here if he is able to fully adjust after playing two years at running back and then redshirting while making the transition to LB last year.
With all the production lost from last year it would be easy to grade this position as an overall minus from last year. With the addition of Jones, Ogletree, Samuel and Drew the talent level is higher. With a second year for most of the players in the 3-4 it should also benefit this group as a whole. My prediction, this group will be more explosive than last year’s group and at the same time much more fundamentally sound.