Cougars thin at outside linebacker

The Cougar defensive coaches are having to be a little creative this spring camp. Gone are the days when Coach Poppinga felt comfortable playing seven out of nine guys last year. Some of those guys are now injured, while others have left on missions, leaving the outside linebacker position rather thin.

Ezekiel Ansah was once mentored by Coach Poppinga before the defensive line got a little thin and he switched positions. With the injury to Eathyn Manumaleuana, Ansah got his chance to shine and the rest is history. This past week, Poppinga got some help of his own when Buck linebacker Teu Kautai was move from the middle to the Sam linebacker position to help shore up some depth issues there.

"Teu Kautai is going back and forth from Buck linebacker to Sam linebacker because he's suited for that position," said Poppinga. "Then Tanner Cox is out there on the outside as well."

Kautai comes in at 6 feet 1 inch and 215 pounds, so he's a little on the more nimble side of the athletic scale, making him a primary candidate for the Sam position which often drops back into coverage. He and Alani Fua, who is at the Will side in place of Kyle Van Noy (whom the coaches are giving limited reps to), are the two starters on the outside for now.

"Teu only really knows the Sam position, but Alani knows both Sam and Will linebacker positions," said Poppinga. "Then Tanner Cox knows both sides as well, so that gives you an idea of what we are working with. We have to be pretty creative at times but we're hanging in there."

Fua is taking most of the reps at Will in place of BYU superstar Kyle Van Noy. Jherremya Leuta-Douyere was playing the Will linebacker spot while Fua was at the Sam.

"So right now Kyle is very limited with contact and it gives some younger guys some opportunities to play, guys like Jherremya Leuta-Douyere and Alani Fua, who are going in with the ones right now," said Poppinga. "Leuta-Douyere got a little concussion [on Wednesday] and so he might be out for a week or so. We're a little thin at outside linebacker right now, and so we had to install an inside backer to outside."

Leuta-Douyere isn't the only one recovering from an injury. While Leuta-Douyere might be out for a week or so, others who've suffered injuries might be out for the rest of spring camp.

"We have Kyle out and Joey Owens out along with Kevan Bills, who will be out for most or all of spring," Poppinga lamented. "So, right now I've got three guys who might be out for some time, and then now we might have Jherremya out for a week or so with a concussion."

Right now the depth chart looks a lot more like a M.A.S.H. unit list than a football roster.

WLB Kyle Van Noy: Not 100 percent and being used sparingly and cautiously by the coaches. It makes sense since Van Noy doesn't have much to prove over spring camp.

WLB Jherremya Leuta-Doyere: The former Servite High School star was playing the Will position in place of Van Noy. However, he has suffered a concussion and won't be on the field for around a week according to Coach Poppinga.

"Jherremya would be after Alani and has been playing really well," Poppinga said. "I'm really happy with him. I really look forward to working with him. He's like a little James Harrison [former Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker]. He's like a little pit bull in there, man. It's fun."

WLB Lene Lesatele: Not participating in spring camp and will leave after this semester to serve in the Philippines Naga Mission.

SLB Spencer Hadley: Not participating in spring camp and, like Van Noy, doesn't have much to prove.

WLB/SLB Alani Fua: A versatile athlete who has been playing both the Will and Sam outside linebacker positions. Fua has been playing Will more now that Leuta-Doyere suffered a concussion.

WLB/SLB Tanner Cox: Another versatile outside linebacker who has played both sides of the field. Cox has been rotating at the Sam linebacker position with Kautai now that Fua is manning the Will linebacker side.

SLB/BLB Teu Kautai: A Buck linebacker last year, Kautai has been moved over to the Sam linebacker position now that Fua has moved over to Will. Kautai received some experience at the Sam linebacker before moving to Buck linebacker last year. He is now running with the first team.

Biggest surprise of spring camp

Coach Mendenhall eluded to it while addressing the media, and now Coach Poppinga has echoed BYU head coach's sentiments. The biggest surprise of spring camp – at least from the outside linebacker position – happens to be Alani Fua, followed by Teu Kautai.

"So right now out of those guys, the guys that are playing, Alani is the guy that's been the biggest surprise of spring camp so far," said Coach Poppinga. "He's playing harder than he's ever played. Then Teu Kautai would be the guy after that who's really impressed me this spring."

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