Spring football inches closer on the 2023 calendar as February trickles towards March. The state of Texas is primed for another memorable year at the FBS level with UTSA coming off another C-USA title and TCU becoming the first team from Texas to reach a national championship game since Colt McCoy’s Longhorns. There are 13 FBS teams in Texas now with Sam Houston moving up. Houston is now in the Big 12, while UTSA, North Texas, and Rice move to the AAC.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football will look at the 10 best players at each position on the football field continuing with linebackers.
1. JAYLAN FORD, TEXAS
2022 review: 119 tackles, 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INT, 3 FF, 2 FR
Ford was the breakout player in the 2022 season for the Texas Longhorns on an improved defense for an eight-win team. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and the Defensive Player of the Year in Texas by DCTF. Ford was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press. The Frisco Lone Star product recorded at least 10 tackles in seven of the 12 games he participated in and enters his senior season as the leader of the Longhorn defense.
2. JOHNNY HODGES, TCU
2022 review: 87 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks
The Maryland native transferred to TCU from Navy prior to the 2022 season and immediately became an impact player on the second level for the Horned Frogs. His addition made the transition from a 4-2-5 to a 3-3-5 smooth. Hodges was first on the team in tackles and third in tackles for loss. His role gets even bigger in 2023 thanks to the loss of Dee Winters.
3. JAMAL LIGON, UTSA
2022 review: 88 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 FF
Ligon led the Roadrunners in tackles by 16 stops as a junior in 2022. He was second on the Roadrunners in tackles back in 2021 despite playing in only 12 of the 14 games last season. He started 11 times at inside linebacker. The Tyler native will be tasked with leading the second level in 2023 thanks to the losses of fellow linebackers Trevor Harmanson and Dadrian Taylor. Ligon is a three-year starter with plenty of experience in the UTSA system.
4. TYRICE KNIGHT, UTEP
2022 review: 95 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR
Knight stepped into the main role at linebacker for the Miners in 2022 because Breon Hayward was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. He’ll remain the main man in the middle for UTEP for the 2023 season, and he’ll have a new dance partner due to the loss of Cal Wallerstedt. The duo tied for the team lead in tackles last season. Knight is a Florida native who arrived in El Paso prior to the 2020 season after a JUCO career at Independence CC. He’s a super senior with roughly 30 starts as a Miner.
5. LARRY NIXON III, NORTH TEXAS
2022 review: 105 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack
Nixon must step into the void left by the graduation of KD Davis, the program’s all-time leading tackler. Nixon was able to play next to Davis for years and should be poised to lead the Mean Green in tackles in 2023. He was one of 62 players nationally to post over 100 tackles. Nixon was a second-team All-Texas selection and closed the 2022 campaign with a 10-tackle effort in a bowl loss. Nixon is entering his sixth season at North Texas.
6. JAMOL HODGE, TCU
2022 review: 82 tackles, 8 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT
Hodge was an honorable mention All-Big 12 player for a loaded group of linebackers at TCU during the 2022 campaign. He started all 15 games and was third on the team in tackles and sacks. He was fourth on the squad with eight tackles for loss. Hodge began to build momentum in the final seven games of the 2021 season, and he handled the transition into a 3-3-5 defense with ease. He’ll be a key member of the TCU defense in 2023. Hodge and and Hodges might form the best linebacker duo in the Big 12.
7. EDGERRIN COOPER, TEXAS A&M
2022 review: 61 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FF
Nagging injuries and poor play in the front seven as a team kept Cooper from making the expected jump from freshman contributor to star as a sophomore. The Aggies hope the sophomore slump ended and that Cooper is ready to lead a resurgent Wrecking Crew to better results in 2023. He started eight games last season and finished fourth on the team in tackles.
8. MALIK ROBINSON, HOUSTON
2022 review: Injured
Robinson missed the final 11 games of the 2022 season with an injury and the Cougars defense absolutely missed his athleticism and playmaking ability at the second level. He started the first two games at the WILL position, totaling 15 tackles in that span. He played in 14 games as a junior in 2021.
9. MATT JONES, BAYLOR
2022 review: 65 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks
The loss of star linebacker Dillon Doyle is a big hole in the Baylor defense, and Jones must be one of the players who ups his game to make up for that lost production. Jones started in all 12 games he played in during the 2022 season, missing the meeting with Texas to close the regular season due to injury. The Odessa Permian graduate was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection by the coaches. He started nine games in 2021 after arriving on campus in 2019.
10. JACOB RODRIGUEZ, TEXAS TECH
2022 review: 29 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 FF
The linebacker position is in a transition year for the Red Raiders and Rodriguez, a former offensive player, is poised for a breakout season at the second level for Texas Tech. He transferred from Virginia prior to the 2022 season, where he was used as a quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and running back as a freshman in 2021. He played in 12 of the 13 games during his first year in Lubbock as an inside linebacker. He’ll need to become an every-down linebacker as a sophomore.
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