Spring Practice Preview: Inside Linebacker

Both inside linebacker positions are wide open after the graduation of Kelly Poppinga and Markell Staffieri. Those competing for the two inside LB positions include a couple of players with good experience and some good yet inexperienced young talent.

Both Kelly Poppinga and Markell Staffieri won't be easy to replace. While Poppinga was the team's leading tackler a year ago and a defensive leader, Staffieri gave some solid play where he proved especially effective against the run. The Cougar coaching staff will have to make due in replacing their services with some exciting options.

Ample Experience

Two players who have some good experience at inside linebacker are Shawn Doman and Matt Bauman. Both players played significant roles last season in backing up both Poppinga and Staffieri.

Shawn Doman when healthy was often looked at as the best option next to Poppinga on the inside. Doman brings a speed element to the position which aids him both in rushing the backfield and in pass coverage.

Doman unfortunately has had to battle through some back problems which have limited the reps he can take. If he can get through those back problems, Doman will likely be receiving the most reps of anyone at the position. However, due to his back problems and prior experience, don't look for Doman to get much work this spring in contact drills.

Matt Bauman has played a significant role in the Cougar defensive system in each of the two years he's played. With that experience, Bauman looks to be the guy - along with Doman - that the rest will be trying to beat out. Bauman's strength is his quickness, as he's proven very effective in pass coverage.

Some Experience

Leading the charge among players with at least some experience will be Terrance Hooks. Hooks has spent his two prior years at BYU bulking up and trying hard to learn how to play the position effectively, having spent his high school years playing running back. Hooks saw few reps at LB a season ago while being one of the leaders of the special teams kick coverage units.

Word is that Hooks has continued to bulk up and will report to camp at about 240 pounds. After watching Hooks the past two seasons, it seems he excels at stuffing the run. Hooks has learned to fill gaps effectively and aggressively with his increased size and strength.

Matt Ah You rejoins the team following his mission after having received some time at linebacker prior to his mission service. Ah You has been working out well with his teammates this offseason and should be one of those players competing hardest for a spot in the ILB rotation.

Better Late than Never

Masi Tuitama was a late qualifier out of high school, but was able to accept his scholarship offer and enroll as a fulltime student this semester. Tuitama has been working out with the team and will be trying to make his mark this spring in competing for a spot on the two-deep roster.

Tuitama turned in some very impressive film from high school that makes it apparent why the coaching staff was willing to hold a scholarship for him. He showed a great ability to read his gap assignment effectively and then fill it with reckless abandon.

Other Options

Some other options that exist from the walk-on ranks include Franco Importa, Tom Steele, Evan Kleinhanz and Jordan Chronister.

Help in the Fall

A lot more options will be joining the team in the fall, as the 2008 recruiting class was littered with future linebacker prospects. While they won't be here until fall, they'll all work to add some good depth to the inside linebacker position.

Heading the group as likely contributors will be junior college transfer Tolu Moala. Moala, like most JC transfers, will likely come in ahead of those players coming straight out of high school.

Brandon Ogletree will be back from his mission as well in time for fall practices and will most likely redshirt as he preps himself to contribute to the position in future years.

Unlike the defensive line position, the linebacker positions include little starting experience outside of one player (David Nixon), although Shawn Doman has seen significant playing time when he's healthy. The inside linebacker positions are truly wide-open, making for one of the better stories this spring.

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