BYU Spring Prospectus: Linebackers
Weak things have been made strong for BYU in 2011.
The Cougars begin spring practice this coming week with considerable talent and depth at linebacker, something that head coach Bronco Mendenhall hasn’t had the luxury of recently.
BYU enters the spring with multiple players with starting-level talent at all four positions in Mendenhall’s 3-4 defense.
Strength in the Middle
The Cougars will finally get the services of USC transfer Uona Kaveinga (5-11, 255 Jr) in the middle in this year. He sat out last season after his appeal to play immediately was denied by the NCAA.
Most believe that Kaveinga will step into the starting role at the mike linebacker spot vacated by the graduated Shane Hunter and make things very difficult for teams trying to do business in the interior of the BYU defense.
Zac Stout (6-1, 229 So.) will have something to say about who starts at the mike spot this year however. He should give Uona a run for his money for playing time after seeing action in 10 games last year and totaling 20 tackles, including three in BYU’s win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
Brandon Ogletree (5-11, 225 Jr.) should enter spring as the starter at the buck linebacker. Brandon was fourth on the team last year with 49 tackles. He also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, had two interceptions and five tackles for loss. He was named as the MWC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Colorado State.
He will try to hold off a surging Austen Jorgensen (6-2, 235 Jr) who started three games last season and finished just behind Ogletree with 46 tackles. Austen’s solid performance came in his first season back from a mission so it will be interesting to see his progress this spring.
These four very capable players give Bronco Mendenhall the option of being able to rotate players to keep his interior linebackers fresh without a experiencing a drop off in effectiveness.
Talent on the Outside
On the outside the Cougars hope to have Jordan Pendleton (6-2, 239 Sr.) fully healthy. Jordan entered last season recovering from shoulder surgery, then proceeded to suffer a knee injury at Utah State and was never able to contribute again because of lingering pain. Pendleton may not see much action this spring as the coaches seek to preserve his health for fall camp.
That means Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 219 So.) should get plenty of work this spring on the weakside and have the opportunity to develop his game. As a true freshman Van Noy showed his tremendous athletic ability and immense potential as the season wore on. He recovered a fumble at Colorado State and took it 44 yards for a touchdown. Coaches have wanted him to work on gaining size and strength, so we’ll get a look at what kind of progress he has made in that regard.
With a healthy Pendleton, the weakside linebacker position is loaded with NFL-caliber talent. It will be interesting to see if Bronco is willing to play both Jordan and Kyle on the field at the same time in an effort to get his best athletes on the field.
On the strong side Jameson Frazier returns after holding down the starting spot for much of 2010. Jameson is a Bronco-type kid that some may define as an overachiever. He converted to linebacker from the defensive backfield and made a lot of plays for Bronco in 2010.
BYU will get Jordan Atkinson (6-3, 230 Sr.) back this season after he redshirted last year while recovering from injury. Atkinson will look to step up and make a big impact in 2011, and that begins this spring. He has slimmed down some over the last year and hopes to have a breakout season. Expect him to be in the mix on the strong side.
Expect Jadon Wager (6-4, 246 Sr.) to be in the mix as well. Wagner stepped up last season when injuries took their toll on the BYU linebacker corps. He saw action in 12 of 13 games, recording 10 tackles in his first major action of the year at Utah State and had seven take downs at TCU.
Other veterans will provide depth at linebacker and will look to improve their standing in the spring, including Aveni Leung-Wai (6-1, 238 Sr.), Connell Hess (6-0, 224 Jr.), Tyler Beck (6-1, 210 So.) and Matt Santos (6-3, 215 So.)
Infusion of Talent
Spring football will provide an opportunity for redshirt freshmen Alani Fua (6-5, 195 Fr.) and Sae Tautu (6-3, 224 Fr.) to show what they can do and begin their climb up the depth chart.
Meanwhile a couple of notable returned missionaries, Spencer Hadley (6-1, 221 So.) and Kevan Bills (6-3, 225 Fr.), have arrived in time to participate in spring ball.
This fall BYU will welcome back Iona Pritchard(6-0, 234 S0.), who played both linebacker and fullback prior to his mission. The Cougars will also add new linebacker recruits Manoa Pikula (6-1, 225 Fr.), Austin Heder (6-3, 235 Fr.), Lene Lesatele (6-2, 240 Fr.), Adam Pulsipher (6-2, 230 Fr.) and Aulelio Olumua (6-4, 225, Fr.).
With the numbers and talent in the pipeline at linebacker, two former backers are switching positions in their first seasons home from missions. As mentioned in a previous article Daniel Sorensen (6-2, 208 So.) is making the switch to strong safety and is expected to make a strong push to start, while Michael Alisa (6-1, 225 So.) will play running back.