Indeed, this group of linebackers will show how well they rush the quarterback; take on blockers; cover running backs and tight ends; fill gaps or running lanes; pursue from sideline to sideline; drop in zone coverage; and just about everything else. Linebackers have to show an ability to do it all.
Voids to be filled at linebacker:
Brady Poppinga-First and foremost of the voids left among the linebacking corps is the departure of Brady Poppinga. Poppinga had been a leader on defense for several years. He is showing fans just how badly he'll be missed already by putting up outstanding numbers at last week's NFL draft combine in Indianapolis.
Poppinga was a vocal leader who possessed great athletic ability. He was able to play defensive end and outside linebacker with great effectiveness. Poppinga just made plays throughout his entire career regardless of which position he was playing. Replacing Poppinga will be a tough task to be sure.
Matt Bauman-Had quite a few reps as a freshman last season before leaving on a church mission. Bauman was solid if unspectacular in manning one of the two outside linebacking positions.
Colby Bockwoldt-Although he's been gone for two years now, BYU's linebacking corps are looking for a guy who can effectively step up to fill Bockwoldt's void. Bockwoldt truly could do it all, but was most effective covering speedy running backs out of the backfield and pursuing them from sideline to sideline. BYU is still yet to fill this void effectively in this observer's opinion.
Cameron Jensen 6-2, 230 Jr.-Jensen mans the position that in most systems is the primary play-maker and leader of the defense. This is a role that Jensen has earned and where he will continue to thrive. Jensen is truly the leader of the defense and will only improve upon his solid play from a year ago.
He's a player who has totally bought into Coach Mendenhall's system and is someone that already has the respect from many a teammate. Middle linebacker is not a void to be filled and will only grow stronger with Jensen as the primary part.
Justin Luettgerodt 6-4, 240 Sr.-When talking about the awesome task of replacing Poppinga, one naturally turns to the player who was recruited to be the type of player Poppinga was in Mendenhall's system. Luettgerodt decided to come and play for BYU largely in part to how he saw Poppinga was used in Mendenhall's system. What he saw was attractive and he envisioned himself playing a similar role.
Now Luettgerodt has a golden opportunity. Though he has been hampered by injury since his arrival in Provo over a year ago, Luettgerodt is looking to put his injuries behind him while providing solid and consistent play that will alleviate the void left by Poppinga.
Paul Walkenhorst 6-5. 252 Sr.-Walkenhorst may be the most interesting part of all the many parts vying for time in the linebacking rotation. His experience stands alone in comparison with all others and he's shown since his true freshman season to be a very sure tackler and just an outstanding football player in general.
After a string of devastating injuries, Walkenhorst is back to give it another go. He knows how to play football and is as good as anybody when healthy. How Mendenhall and new linebackers coach Paul Tidwell choose to use Walkenhorst will be interesting. He'll be a player TBS will keep a close eye on throughout spring practice as he could be the most intriguing prospect to next year's defense.
Gary Lovely 6-3, 210 Jr.-Lovely had his moments last season and his playing time increased with every game last season. Lovely is a very talented athlete who looks to be the type to fill the void left by Bockwoldt effectively. Having been through a season in Mendenhall's system will be a big advantage for him come spring practices.
Aaron Wagner 6-3, 245 Jr.-Wagner transferred to BYU a year after his mission from Washington State. Wagner was a scout team stud whose play on the scout team was comparable to that of Cameron Jensen two years ago. That alone should excite many Cougar fans regarding Wagner's prospects.
Wagner has a motor that is always running and has shown to be very athletic. Wagner is a guy who looks to be a sure a bet in the regular linebacker rotation that will start to form in spring practices.
Matt Ah You 6-0, 245 So-Ah You, like Walkenhorst, played significant minutes as a true freshman a couple of years ago and played well. Ah You showed great maturity and athleticism.
Ah You played last season, but wasn't in good football shape as he found the acclimation into the linebacking rotation challenging as he missed a good deal of practice. For this reason, Ah You looks to make some noise as he'll have a full session of practices and workouts for the first time leading up to the 2005 football season.
Markell Staffieri 6-3, 230 So-Staffieri played early and often as a walk-on last season and played well. He'll be a solid contributor this year for the linebacking corps.
Other prospects include Cy Tidwell 6-0, 220 Jr. by way of Snow College, Sean Sullivan 6-2, 225 So, Kelly Poppinga 6-2, 237, the younger brother of Brady Poppinga who transferred from Utah State, Jayson Clark 6-1, 215 Jr. by way of Snow College, Sosiua Sekona 6-1, 240 Sr. from Grossmont junior college, Dan Bates 6-0, 240 Jr. from Rick's College and Justin Williams 6-2, 240 Jr.
Linebacker is stacked with some of the best talent BYU has had in recent memory. Even those not profiled have impressive resumes that may lead them to contribute next season. Linebacker should easily go from a position that was relatively thin a season ago to a definite strength for the coming 2005 season. Like the defensive line, linebacker is a position where the prospects look grand.