Fall practice preview: linebackers

The linebackers are the stated strength of the Cougar defense entering the 2011 season with relatively few question marks. There are a few rotation issues that need to be worked out during the fall camp session, but able bodies look plentiful at each of the four linebacker positions.

Head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall abandoned his 3-3-5 defense in 2006 for a 3-4 defensive alignment. One of the reasons was due to the collective strength of that year's linebacking corps.

That year saw such players as Cameron Jensen, Bryan Kehl, David Nixon, Kelly Poppinga and Aaron Wagner manning the linebacker spots. Every year since then, the coaches have looked to put together a group with similar talent and upside to that 2006 group.

This season looks to be a year where they may just have that level of talent.

"They're a playmaking group," said Mendenhall. "They're a group with some experience, not a lot, but they're a group where we like their mindset and expect a lot out of them as a group."

Inside linebacker

It's pretty cut and dry regarding who will be starting at the Mike and Buck linebacker spots. Junior Uona Kaveinga (5-11, 255) will be manning the Mike spot ...

... with junior Brandon Ogletree (5-11, 225) manning the Buck position.

Ogletree returns from a very good season last year, while Kaveinga has won over his coaches and teammates during the year he had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.

"Uona is someone who is dedicated to the program and has shown well in all situations since he entered our program," said Mendenhall. "I love how he plays. He doesn't talk much, but he lets his play do his talking, which I like as a coach."

Backing up both Kaveinga and Ogletree at the two inside positions this past spring were junior Austen Jorgensen (6-2, 235) ...

... and sophomore Spencer Hadley (6-1, 221).

Jorgensen has logged some good reps since coming home from his mission, while Hadley showed very well during the spring, which was his first practice session following his own mission service.

Other potential contributors that will be vying for spots on the inside this fall include sophomore Tyler Beck (6-1, 210) ...

... junior Connell Hess (6-1, 224) ...

... recently returned missionary Iona Pritchard (6-1, 234), who stood out as a true freshman ...

... freshman Seth Probert (6-3, 205) ...

... and senior Aveni Leung-Wai (6-1, 238).

A trio of intriguing true freshmen will also be looking to make their marks: Pleasant Grove's Austin Heder (6-3, 235), Southern California's Lene LeSatele (6-2, 240) and Bingham's Manoa Pikula (6-1, 225).

"We have a lot of good playmakers at middle linebacker," said Jordan Pendleton. "I like their attitude, it makes it fun to play with. Tree [Ogletree] is a freak, and so is Uona, so that's going to make it a lot of fun for us all."

. Sophomores Uani Unga and Zac Stout are expected to sit out in 2011 due to transfer rules and injury issues, respectively

Outside linebacker

There are three outside backers heading into the fall practice session that will headline this group, starting with senior Jordan Pendleton (6-3, 239). The key for Pendleton will be simply to remain healthy, which he's struggled to do so far during his career at BYU.

"It's frustrating," he said. "I know that I can really help this team if I can just stay healthy, but I've had a problem doing that, obviously. I hope it changes this year because it will be my last chance."

The two starting outside linebackers during the spring were sophomore Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 219) ...

... and senior Jameson Frazier (6-2, 225).

"Jameson Frazier is one of our leaders on defense," said Mendenhall. "I like his effort and his dedication. Kyle Van Noy is someone who is still learning how to play in our system, but he's made great strides. I like where he's headed and feel that he can be a big playmaker for us."

The two next potential contributors are freshman Alani Fua (6-5, 205) and senior Jadon Wagner (6-4, 246).

Fua's athleticism and upside are off the charts, but gaining some more weight will be key for him going forward. Outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga raved about Fua's progress during the spring, and we'll look to see if that progress continues to the tune of a regular spot in the linebacker rotation for 2011.

Wagner had left the program for the CFL, but due to some dissatisfaction with where he went in the draft, he opted to rejoin the BYU football program. "Wags" saw some good reps last season, and provides a physically imposing presence at the Will linebacker spot.

Other potential contributors at outside linebacker include junior Ezekial Ansah (6-6, 254), who has an amazing set of athletic skills but is still learning on how to be a football player ...

... and freshman Kevan Bills (6-3, 225), who has come home from his mission in great shape.

A lot of those mentioned as potential contributors at inside linebacker could easily be switched to the outside as well.

"It's a good group, like I said, and a group that we'll look to as our primary playmakers on defense," said Mendenhall. "I like where they're at as a group, and we will all look to them as being the leaders of our defense this coming season."

"We like being the leaders of the defense," said Pendleton. "It's what we expect from ourselves as a group. I love how we are as a group, how we trust each other, and how well we work together. I just can't wait to get out there and show people what we can do."

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