The Sam, or strongside, Linebacker in BYU's defense has the task of having to cover receivers and tight ends for a longer period of time. Being able to plaster receivers by staying on their hip is an essential aspect to playing the position well. The best at doing that is none other than Alani Fua who arguably could have played tight end in BYU's offense if he had wanted to.
"Alani is really good at being a quick defender and covering a lot of ground really fast," said Mahina. "That's what he's really good at doing. He's really good in space and making up ground quickly. He's one of the best at doing that."
When it comes to the run game, Fua is fairly stout but his strength comes with his speed. He's fast off the edge when pressuring the quarterback and great in space in coverage. Mahina feels he can get the edge on Fua when it comes to blocking for the run game.
"When it comes to the run he's fairly stout at the point of attack," he said. "I think I still have a little upper hand on him with upper body strength so I have a bit of an advantage there. He's pretty stout and uses his athleticism to beat the block. We have some good battles."
Arguably the biggest Will, or weakside, Linebacker in college football, Bronson Kaufusi has caused problems all spring camp long, both in rushing the quarterback and in covering his area in the pass game. His range and athleticism has caused problems all camp long and that can be expected to carry over into the 2014 season. When it comes to physicality, Kaufusi takes the top nod.
"I've been going up against Bronson a lot since he moved to outside linebacker," Mahina said with a smile. "It's hard going up against him because he's so big, strong, and mobile. I have make sure when I go up against him that my positioning is right because if I miss, I'm on the ground. He's one of the toughest guys to block because he's so big and physical."
Mahina has been switched from the flex-tight end, or Y-position, to the attached tight end position. That means he has to block more out of a three point stance next to the offensive tackle, so he gets a large dose of Kaufusi on the edge. How does Kaufusi do in covering tight ends in the pass game?
"In pass defense I haven't had Bronson run downfield to cover me," said Mahina. "Most of the time he drops into the flats and covers space in an area. You know, he's on the boundary and just covers the flat area."
Covering the boundary and flat side of the field makes sense and why Kaufusi is able to be an effective WLB given his 6-7, 265-pound frame. BYU plays has a man-zone coverage element within the defense where players are responsible for defending a specific area. The WLB position with Kaufusi falls into this category.
"I don't think I've had to go down the field with him," Mahina said. "He'll cover me in an area then let me go, and that's when a safety picks me up down deep. When it's a five yard route he's always right there with me, so. He's really agile for how big he is. If he gets his hands on you it's really tough to get into your route."
It's his time to shine and Manoa Pikula is doing just that over spring camp. Pikula would have started last year on almost any other team, but BYU had the nation's second leading tackler in Uani ‘Unga in the program. Pikula plays mean and hungry and takes it out on anyone who comes into his area.
"Manoa is a thick body and holds his ground," said Mahina. "If I'm going a zone left or a zone right I come down on him, and hitting him is like hitting a brick wall. He's one of the more physical players among the inside linebackers."
Apparently, Pikula likes to introduce himself to every receiver who steps into his area in a crossing route.
"He doesn't like it when you come into his area, so he likes to knock a lot of receivers on their butts when you try and cross his face and come into his area," said Mahina with a smile. "If you can get past him, which is really difficult, it becomes your will against his will. You just have to keep your head on a swivel with him because he'll smack you and you're done."
Playing behind Manoa Pikula at the Mike linebacker, Zac Stout is showing to be a monster in run defense. He hits the gaps hard and plays more downhill than most. When it comes to the run, Stout is just that, stout.
"Zac is really physical too," Mahina said. "He's more of a run-stuffer and is really good at coming down hill. He's good in space and, like Manoa, will smack you, but he is really good at anticipating and making plays that way. He's got really good instincts and gets downhill fast to make the play. He's tough against the run."
Before this year, Leuta-Douyere was playing the Will Linebacker despite being built more like a Mike linebacker. The reason was due to his quickness in getting to the edge. Now that quickness is being put to good in pass defense at the Buck Linebacker position, and his 6-1, 238-pound frame is coming in handy in the run defense as well.
"Jherremya is good and he's going to be really good at that position," said Mahina. "He's still new to the position but once he gets everything down he's going to be really good there at the boundary. He's fast and he's strong. What makes Jherremya good is he looks like a tank. He's built like a tank but he's so quick in his first step and side to side, so he's really agile for his size and that makes him really good because it's hard to get the upper hand on him."
When it comes to picking which linebacker he would like to face time and time again, one instantly comes to mind. From tight end Devin Mahina's perspective that linebacker is Bronson Kaufusi for specific reasons.
"I like facing Bronson a lot," Mahina said. "If I'm going to go to the next level those are the types of guys that I'm going to be facing. Going up against Bronson is just great preparation for me to only get better for what's to come."
The Biggest Surprise
From among the young, but talented core of linebackers in the BYU program, there is one that has made the most strides. If he had to choose, Mahina has one linebacker in mind that has become the biggest surprise over spring camp.
"I would say Jherremya (Leuta-Douyere) because this is actually the first time I've gone up against him," Mahina said. "I've been really impressed with him and I'm excited for our linebackers. In our personal battles I would say we're 50/50 right now. He's won half the battles and I've won the other half. I try to hit him and he hits me back. What's going to make him an exciting linebacker is he's just now getting established in his new position and he's already doing well."
"I'm really excited about our linebackers and think we have another group of guys that are going to be really, really good. They just need more experience and time they're going to be really hard to beat. I'm excited for them."