Spring practice preview: linebackers

There are some exciting prospects waiting to fill each of the four linebacker positions this coming season. They'll be competing for spots in earnest this spring, and there looks to be plenty of depth all around.

There looks to be a good mix of experienced players and some exciting up-and-coming talent at linebacker, leading to plenty of intrigue for both the inside and outside linebacker positions. It's somewhat the polar opposite of last year's preseason practice sessions, which saw the team scrambling for capable bodies to fill the spots.

The Given

At inside linebacker, Brandon Ogletree (5-11, 225 Jr.) returns as the most seasoned performer of all the inside linebackers. He'll likely reprise his role at the Buck linebacker position and should be a lock to break the two-deep roster, if not start next season.

Austen Jorgensen (6-2, 225 Jr.) logged some quality reps last season, showing that he's capable of a spot on the two-deep roster. Like Ogletree, he'll likely be manning the Buck linebacker position.

At outside linebacker, there is even more proven talent that are all but locks to rotate in and start at both the Will and Sam positions. That talent starts with Jordan Pendleton (6-3, 239 Sr.). Pendleton battled injuries throughout last season, but is hopefully ready to go this spring and and continue in his role as the starting Sam linebacker.

Jameson Frazier (6-2, 225 Sr.) saw a lot of valuable time starting at Sam linebacker due to Pendleton sitting out for almost the entire season. He showed very well throughout the year and should only work to improve upon his play this spring.

Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 219 So.) is perhaps the most exciting defensive prospect on the team currently. He showed a lot of what he was capable of athletically last season as a true freshman, and this year he should only work to improve upon what he showed at the Sam or Will positions.

Jadon Wagner (6-4, 246 Sr.) showed very well at the Will position last year and will be battling again for an even greater role this coming spring. Overall, there is a proven two-deep roster already in place at the outside linebacker position.

The Intrigue

A lot of the intrigue at inside linebacker this spring surrounds Uona Kaveinga (5-11, 255 Jr.), who looked very good practicing throughout last year, but had to sit out for the year after his transfer from USC. He'll be a candidate to fill in and start at the Mike linebacker position.

Zac Stout (6-1, 229 So.) saw some good reps last season as a true freshman during the first half of the year. This year he'll look to solidify a consistent rotating spot, if not start. Coach Tidwell likes to rotate four inside linebackers, and Stout and the others will aim to be among those rotating players.

Aveni Leung-Wai (6-1, 238 Sr.) was tried at both inside and outside linebacker last season, and will look to establish himself as a solid and consistent contributor this coming spring.

A couple of promising returned missionaries worth mentioning are Spencer Hadley (6-1, 221 So.) and Tyler Beck (6-1, 220 So.). Both players performed very well pre-mission and will look to recapture that form this coming spring during their initial post-mission practice sessions.

Jordan Atkinson (6-3, 230 Sr.) is still on the roster after some injury problems that held him out for the entire season last year. If he proves healthy, he'll certainly compete at either inside or outside linebacker.

This spring will be the first opportunity for us to watch Kevan Bills (6-3, 225 Fr.) compete following his mission service. He is the brother of Craig Bills and will likely compete at the Will linebacker spot.

Alani Fua (6-5, 210 Fr.) is a very exciting prospect given his overall athleticism. If he can keep his weight up, he could certainly come on to make an immediate impact as a redshirt freshman at outside linebacker.

Sae Tautu (6-3, 224 Fr.) will look to establish himself as a contributor at the Will linebacker position as well, and this will be the first we'll see of Uani Unga (6-1, 219 Jr.), who will be competing at either the Sam linebacker spot or at inside linebacker. Unga will have to sit out his first season due to transfer rules, but will be able to practice fully with the team.

Others that hope to contribute at either inside or outside linebacker include such players as Tanner Chidester (6-2, 210 Fr.), Tanner Cox (6-3, 210 Fr.), Connell Hess (6-0, 224 Jr.), Austin Nielsen (6-0, 253 Jr.), Seth Probert (6-3, 205 Fr.), Matt Santos (6-3, 215 So.), and Peter Welsh (5-11, 205 So.).

Overall, the linebacker position will be very interesting to watch throughout the spring with very few established starters returning, but a load of proven talent and exciting prospects competing for spots. There is sure to be a lot of different faces tried out with the first- and second-teams, and we'll be updating any progress made by anyone throughout spring camp.

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