Help From Outside

The Cougar linebacking corps is set on the outside, returning two starters from a year ago in Bryan Kehl and David Nixon. Throw in Chris Bolden, who has some good experience, and one can readily assume it will be a strong position. But it doesn't stop there, as some new, young outside linebackers are making their mark on spring practices.

"We have some really good guys coming up," said Bryan Kehl regarding the younger outside linebackers in the program. "Guys like Dan Van Sweden, Grant Nelson and Austen Jorgensen. Those guys are going to be awesome. They're going to help us a lot."

Van Sweden Stepping Up

Chief among those young outside linebackers mentioned by Kehl who have stepped up this spring is Dan Van Sweden. In reviewing my practice notes every day following practice, the words "#44, great play" have been appearing more and more in my notepad. Indeed, Van Sweden is making his mark.

"It's going pretty good out there," said Van Sweden, speaking of his play so far this spring. "I felt I was doing well last fall before I got hurt and had to catch up throughout the year, but I'm definitely feeling more comfortable every day and I'll continue to improve."

Whether it be through hitting a guy for a loss in the backfield, sacking the quarterback or intercepting passes, Van Sweden is serving notice that he can make plays. For Van Sweden making plays is something he intends to do with regularity both on and off the field.

"You need to make plays in practice before you can make plays on the field, obviously, and so far I think I've been doing that," said Van Sweden. "I'm a hands-on sort of learner and with the increased reps I've been getting I feel that I'm learning much faster. You can sit and be told while watching film what to do, but that doesn't come close to learning on the field, which I've been able to do more of this spring."

From Special Teams to the Regular Rotation

Van Sweden was one of the standouts on kickoff coverage last season, making his share of tackles. This season Van Sweden is anxious to see even more special teams work while getting some good reps at linebacker as well.

"I love special teams," said Van Sweden. "Last year I was on kickoff return and kick coverage and this year I'll be on even more units which I love, but I want to see playing time at linebacker with the regular defensive units and make some plays out there. That's my goal."

While Van Sweden started out this spring playing weak side linebacker [Will], he's been moved to the strong side linebacker [Sam] and is flourishing there. So what's the difference between the two positions?

"At Will you're a little more at help with the corner," explained Van Sweden. "So you're helping a little more in coverage, while at Sam you're more with run-support. Both positions are very similar. We blitz from both sides, so the difference isn't all that much."

Van Sweden recognizes that he's part of one of the strongest units on the team and is anxious to make his mark. In doing so he aims to even raise the level of play of the linebacking unit as a whole.

"We obviously have great linebackers," said Van Sweden. "Bryan Kehl is a stud, so is David Nixon. Chris Bolden is one tough guy who will have a good year and we have some good young guys. We're strong, very strong on the outside, just like we are on the inside. I just hope to make my mark along with the other guys."

Van Sweden is also very high on the prospects for the team as whole this coming season.

"We lost some key guys, but we have a lot coming back," said Van Sweden. "I think we're going to be even better than last year with the guys coming back, especially on defense. Even on offense we've all been impressed with Max Hall and how he's been moving the offense. We're going to be a very good team this year on both sides of the ball."

Jorgensen Serving Notice

The youngest of the linebackers is Austen Jorgensen, who despite his age has been playing some very good football since joining the team straight out of high school this past January.

"Austen is a stud," said Kelly Poppinga about Jorgenson. "He's got good speed and he's a real tough kid. He's a hard worker and he's someone who is really going to have a good career here at BYU if he just keeps working hard. He could be someone to help us this year as a freshman."

"I've been surprised with myself a bit," said Jorgensen. "I feel that I was learning fast and really improving."

Jorgensen was seeing reps with the second and even first-team units on occasion before he sustained a shoulder injury that has put the rest of the spring and the coming season in doubt. He had also sustained a leg injury his senior year of high school, keeping him on the sidelines for his final prep season.

"It's just one thing after the other it seems," said Jorgensen about his latest injury. "It's obviously very frustrating."

Jorgensen suffered a torn labrum and also some chips in his shoulder, and will further be evaluated to determine his status for the rest of the spring and for the coming season. If he has surgery, Jorgensen is likely to be out 3-5 months with a redshirt year awaiting him in the fall.

"I want to play," said Jorgensen. "I graduated early so I could do that, so I definitely don't want to redshirt if I don't have to. It's frustrating because I feel fine. I feel like I can play, but we'll have to evaluate it further and see how it all works out."


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