It won't be too much of a mystery who will take the field for the top-ranked Bearkats when the 2012 campaign officially kicks off Sept. 8 in their season opener.

With 20 total starters returning (eight on offense, nine on defense and three on special teams), there will be plenty of familiar faces for Sam Houston on the turf on its opening possessions against Incarnate Word.

Sam Houston wasn't able to retain all of their starters, though, and as a result the Kats coaching staff had to address question marks for certain positions. On paper, the biggest area of uncertainty lies with the linebacking corps, which lost two starters in Will Henry and Kash David.

While that may seem like a big problem in such an important part of the field, the Bearkats have the fortune of filling in those vacant spots with a couple of players who have seen just as much action as starters.

Backups, who subbed into the game with great frequency last season, Eric Fieilo and Darius Taylor are now the two players who will go from off the bench to starters.

"Technically, Kash and Will started every ballgame last year, but we really rolled those four guys," Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said following Friday morning's practice.

"Last year, that was probably our deepest position in terms of quality football players. We had four guys who could start for any team in the Southland Conference for two spots. We were able to play those guys in spots like the kicking game. We rolled them into each series to keep them fresh. It really helped with our depth, particularly in the kicking game."

Even though Taylor and Fieilo weren't at the top of the depth chart last season as far as linebackers were concerned, they were just as vital and productive as their counterparts.

David and Henry combined for 128 tackles, including 24 for loss of yardage, five sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and a safety. Taylor and Fieilo produced 139 total tackles with 21 for loss of yardage, four sacks, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

The Kats' most experienced linebackers now get a chance to continue to perform at a high level as starters.

"We played just as much as the other guys, so we feel comfortable starting now," Taylor said. "We've got high expectations, for us and the rest of the defense. We feel like we can have a better year with the experience we gained and only losing two starters. We feel like we can fill in that role and help the defense out even more than we did last year."

Part of what made Sam Houston's defense so stingy last year was that the Kats were able to rotate players in and out all game, particularly with the linebackers, and that allowed them to keep from being fatigued toward the end of the game.

"(Defensive coordinator) coach (Scott) Stoker had enough confidence in those guys to where he didn't care what the situation was, whosever turn it was would be in the game," Fritz said. "If you're able to roll guys, it keeps them fresher and there's less chance of injury and all of those kind of things."

As Taylor and Fieilo now fill the role that David and Henry played last fall, Fritz is looking at his other linebackers to see who will be able to effectively cycle in off the bench in order for the Bearkats to remain fresh.

"Jesse Beauchamp, he's done some good things and played a little bit for us last year and did a really nice job in the kicking game. We think he's a guy who can roll in and out at linebacker," the coach said. "Eric, Darius and Jesse are the three that stood out.

"We've got Jeremy Jackson, who's going to be a sophomore in his third year in the program, we're hoping he can develop into a guy who can play a lot for us. We've got a transfer from Missouri named Brandon Durant, who got here a few days ago so he's going to have to learn the defense, and then there are some younger guys who haven't played much."

Now having a chance to start, Taylor and Fieilo are ready for their chance to come out and lead the Bearkats defense on another dominant campaign.

"I feel no difference. I feel like now I'm just starting off the game. I came in every second drive, now I'm just starting it off," Taylor added. "I'm comfortable and now I'm ready to show what I can do."

Sam Houston will conclude preseason camp with a 7 p.m. scrimmage Monday night.

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