Improvement on the Inside

No position group other than quarterback was as young and inexperienced entering the 2010 season as the inside linebackers. Through three games, they've had their ups and downs as a unit to be sure, but have shown steady improvement as a group. TBS caught up with Coach Paul Tidwell to learn more about what is going on with his position group.

Only two upperclassmen, neither with prior starting experience (Shane Hunter and Brandon Ogletree) and one of those (Ogletree) being held out due to injury; a couple of first-year players (Zac Stout and Aveni Leung-Wai), one of which is a true freshman; and another player that's a recently returned missionary (Austen Jorgensen): that's what inside linebacker coach Paul Tidwell has had to make do with this season, and it's been a challenge to be sure.

Relative to the enormous inexperience the position is fraught with, Tidwell likes how his group is shaping up.

"They're coming along good," he said. "There's a lot of inexperience and you're seeing that with missed assignments and guys not being able to make as many plays as we'd like, but it's a young group and we knew that coming in. What I do like is their work and their determination to get better as a unit and I think we will get better."

One of the biggest challenges has been facing three completely different offensive systems in the first three games of the season.

"They're seeing different looks every game and that's tough on a young group," explained Tidwell. "This week, it's another new look again for them. [Nevada is] sort of the same as Air Force in a lot of ways, but they'll run it at you out of different formations than Air Force uses, so it's a great experience for all of them and when we get through this early going, if they continue with the right attitude and effort, we'll be stronger as a group because of it."

While Shane Hunter has been the mainstay at the Mike linebacker position, there has been a lot of rotation at the Buck linebacker position. With Brandon Ogletree being shelved due to injury, Austen Jorgensen has been the player that has emerged.

"Austen Jorgensen is playing real well right now and I like the progress he's made," said Tidwell. "He has a few things he needs to work on to get better, but all of them do. I like his attitude and I like his athleticism."

Aveni Leung-Wai has been the other option at the Buck position, and while he's started in most games, he's given way to Jorgensen for the majority of the snaps.

"Aveni can run and he's very athletic, and so is Austen," said Tidwell. "That's not a question with both of them. They can play at this level and make plays, no question about that. What we need from both of them is to see things better and see things a bit quicker than they have been. It's going to come, you just need to be patient with them."

At the critical Mike position, Shane Hunter is someone who has provided a lot of leadership and direction for the young guys.

"Shane is like a coach on the field, which is big for us considering all the young players we have out there," noted Tidwell. "He's huge for us because of that and it's something that we really need our Mike linebacker to be. He's very vocal and players really look to him and he does great with that. His role is vital to us."

Slowly but surely, Zac Stout has begun to take more and more reps with each game. He's being looked to as an eventual replacement to Hunter, as he's thought to be more capable athletically.

"Zac is really coming along well," said Tidwell. "I like his progress. He's another true freshman who is seeing things for the first time, but every week I'm seeing growth, I'm seeing him being more vocal with the defense and he's playing with more confidence. He's going to be fine and I really like what I've seen so far."

As the new players settle in and get to know their assignments better, Tidwell believes that they'll then see better tackling and playmaking from the overall unit.

"We missed making too many plays against Florida State and we know that, the guys know that," said Tidwell. "It wasn't a good game for us in that regard, but you get that with a young group. What I like about these guys is that they're not getting down. They're keeping their heads up and their attitude is very good. Because of that, they'll get better because they're willing to do the work."

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