This group of outside linebackers will be led by four-year starter David Nixon. Over his career starring on the outside, Nixon has provided solid play while accounting for some of the biggest defensive plays the Cougars have compiled over the past few years.
What Nixon brings above all other factors is speed. His ability to move and to close laterally has secured the outside flat area wherever he lines up. Nixon will now be manning the strong side of the field, which will add to his responsibility, but few if any doubt that the four-year starter is not equal to the task which Bryan Kehl completed so admirably a season ago.
Sky is the Limit
Opposite Nixon playing the boundary or short side of the field is converted tight end Vic So'oto. All sorts of offseason hype has surrounded So'oto after he recorded a sub 4.6 forty during offseason drills. So'oto is poised and ready to make a huge impact from the outside.
So'oto has never been short on athletic ability and in presenting a physical and even nasty presence on the football field, which makes him well-suited for the defensive side of the football. He has proved during spring practices to be a real threat as a rush end during passing situations.
At the very least So'oto will make his mark rushing the quarterback from the end, but he has also proved to be very good in open space when covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. So'oto's steepest learning curve may prove to be in completing gap assignments effectively during run situations.
Should So'oto learn to complete all of his outside linebacking responsibilities effectively, then the sky is the limit given his superior athleticism.
The other two primary options as fall practices get set to kickoff are Grant Nelson and Coleby Clawson. Both players could be options to fill in at inside linebacker should the need arise, but for right now both will be the primary rotating options with Nixon and So'oto.
Nelson is well-seasoned within the program and knows his assignments well as he plays on the outside position, primarily backing up So'oto. So'oto is the wildcard with tremendous upside, and Nelson is a steady force behind him, which makes for a good combination.
Coleby Clawson meanwhile impressed teammates this spring with his play backing up both outside linebacker positions. Clawson's primary strength should prove to be in defending the run, where his big frame should fare well in taking on blockers while completing gap assignments.
The young guns on the outside will be led by Masi Tuitama. Tuitama came on strong toward the end of spring, which was his first practice session as a college player. He showed great lateral speed and great potential, which should serve him well as he works to break the two-deep roster at outside linebacker.
Jadon Wagner is someone we've always been anxious to note during practice, although due to injury he's barely sniffed the practice field. His upside is tremendous and he'll look to make his presence known while improving his game this fall if healthy.
Converted defensive lineman Matt Putnam is still probably a year away, but his prospects are exciting given his huge stature. That should allow him to wreak havoc during passing downs as he alternates between rushing the quarterback and dropping into coverage.
The incoming freshmen will be headed by Timpview's Michael Alisa, who is regarded by many as one of the more underrated recruits from a year ago.
All Eyes On
Our eyes were sharply focused toward Vic So'oto this past spring, and that doesn't look to change during this fall practice session. In our view there is no player in the position group with as much upside as the converted tight end, and as he improves it should be fun to note.
Jadon Wagner and Matt Putnam are two of the more intriguing prospects you'll ever see at outside linebacker, and both will be warranting a lot of attention. We'll be sure to note their progress, along with that of the other young players such as Alisa and Tuitama.
We'll also be watching every day for any and every movement between the outside and inside linebackers. The options are very intriguing for both positions groups.