Practice Report: Outside Options

This fall outside linebacker coach Barry Lamb is looking at different options at both outside linebacker spots. Due to some unforeseen injuries, among other factors, Coach Lamb is working to put his best options on the field. The bright spot in all this is the play of true freshman Michael Alisa.

As fall practice kicked off, Michael Alisa was thrust right into the mix when he got reps with the second team. Three days into fall camp, Alisa continues to impress, leading to some glowing comments from coaches and his fellow teammates.

"It's funny, Michael Alisa reminds me a lot of myself when I was a true freshman," commented senior linebacker David Nixon. "He's got some skills. He's got a good nose for the football, and I think he has a bright future ahead of him. He's working hard and he could be getting some reps during games."

Alisa said he's just looking to contribute anywhere and in any way he can.

"I was sort of surprised when they told me to go in with the 2s my first day," said Alisa. "I have the attitude that I'm going to play as hard as possible no matter where I'm at or where I'm playing. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to be with the 2s, but I could be with the 3s or even the 4s tomorrow, so I just need to keep working hard."

Alisa's talent has become apparent during the first few days of practice. Nixon readily likens Alisa to himself as a true freshman, while others have likened the former Timpview linebacker to Bryan Kehl. According to his position coach, Alisa has shown the skills necessary to succeed much like both Kehl and Nixon did early on.

"He's really doing well," said Coach Barry Lamb about Alisa. "He's a bright young man. He understands most of what we're doing out there and I'm very pleased with his progress so far."

Alisa worked hard this offseason to make sure he'd be as ready as possible to get out of the gate quickly. So far, so good for the freshman.

"I worked as hard as possible in the offseason to get ready," said Alisa. "I'm going 100 percent no matter if I'm doing the right thing or not. David Nixon has been great showing me how to do stuff, and I think now I just need to calm down a bit and that will happen as I learn and I'm more comfortable with what my assignment is every play.

Unfortunate Injuries

While Alisa's play has stood for itself, a recent rash of injuries and the uncertainty of specific players' health have led to Alisa seeing a lot of reps early on. The injuries started with Grant Nelson being lost for the year, but didn't end there.

"The reason Michael is where he is that there are a lot of guys at our position whose health we're not certain of," explained Lamb. "That's how it all started with Alisa getting early looks with the second team. There was a question of health with the other two guys, so that's why I put him in where he is so fast."

Early on Alisa has impressed, earning him some buzz that only a handful of true freshmen have earned thus far. While he's playing well, it remains to be seen whether he'll be with the second team when it's all said and done.

"He's doing everything we could ask of him so far," said Lamb. "We like what we're seeing, but we're not sure at this point whether he'll be where he's at when it's all said and done and as we get healthier at the position."

Alisa said he hopes to stay where he is, but recognizes that changes can come as the practice session wears on.

"I want to play," expressed Alisa. "We all want to play, but I'll do what coaches think is best, absolutely. I hope they think I'm ready and I hope they have confidence in me to play me, but that really is all up to me and how I progress. I have so much to work on still and have to make sure I get better every day."

Where's Tuitama?

Masi Tuitama, on the heels of an impressive spring outing, was someone this reporter readily mentioned as a top option to fill out the two-deep at outside linebacker. Now that Tuitama is having his reps severely limited at the outset of fall practices, I was beginning to wonder if I needed to get my eyes checked.

Tuitama, as it so happens, is one of those linebackers that Coach Lamb mentioned was struggling with an injury.

"He's not entirely healthy from what we've observed," said Lamb regarding Tuitama. "If you're not entirely healthy, then I have a difficult time putting you in there for any amount of significant reps. So his reps will stay limited until he's able to protect his injury better and not play like he's hurt."

Clawson Stepping Up

At the position opposite David Nixon, a battle is heating up between Vic So'oto and Coleby Clawson. While So'oto is the assumed starter and is playing well, Clawson is doing everything in his power to unseat So'oto, or at the very least add some good reps behind him.

"Coleby could be the first-team guy tomorrow," said Lamb. "That's a day-to-day sort of thing, but he's gaining confidence every day, asks good questions and wants to be good. So if Vic is having a difficult time or not performing like he should, we feel we could put in Coleby there and not miss too much. A good competition is going on there, which will make us better."

So'oto Improving

While Lamb readily recognizes the contributions Clawson can make at outside linebacker, he remains very positive about the progress Vic So'oto has made and continue to make.

"I could tell the first day that Vic had been working very hard this summer." said Lamb. "He's more confident and more ready in his mind to do what we need him to, which is a very good thing. He's more confident in his assignments and he's continuing to improve."

With all the talk of his prospects, the fact remains that So'oto still only has 15 or so full practice sessions at his outside linebacker position, which Coach Lamb readily acknowledges.

"He's still very new to the position, which isn't an easy thing for him," said Lamb. "But he works hard, he likes the change and he's still making mistakes, but not big mistakes out there. We like the options we have with both Vic and Coleby at one outside linebacker position."

Practice Notes

-Tom Sorensen will be out 4-6 weeks due to his shoulder, which will be operated on in the next couple of days.

-True freshman Cameron Comer had a nice pass breakup in which he closed in on an attempted out pattern during drills.

-Brandon Bradley recorded an interception during man-on-man drills, while G Pittman broke up a pass in the end zone during skeleton drills.

-Coach Mendenhall commented that Bryan Kariya and Kaneakua Friel are the two lead options at fullback for right now early on in camp.

-Justin Sorensen bounced back by having a productive day of kicking the ball, while Mitch Payne remained consistent in his kicking performance.

-Garrett Reden got the major work at center Tuesday as Coach Weber looks to find the best option at the center position.

-Coach Mendenhall spoke glowingly of Russell Tialavea and the progress he's made both on and off the field. According to Mendenhall, Tialavea gives the added facet of not only taking up blockers well, but using his quickness to jump the B-gaps and make plays himself, which should really benefit the defense as a whole.

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