Fortunately for the linebackers this season they return three starting linebackers from a year ago. There is a tremendous void that will have to be filled at the strongside linebacker position, however, with the graduation of David Nixon. Replacing Nixon while working to strengthen the weakside linebacker spot will be the focus this spring.
The strongside outside linebacker position demands a lot. Those who are called on to play the position must have the ability to cover a lot of space while remaining effective at defending the run. It was a position that Bryan Kehl and then David Nixon excelled at, and replacing them is not an easy task by any means.
Speed is something a strongside linebacker has to have in order to be effective. The candidates to fill this demanding position as spring practice opens are Grant Nelson, Masi Tuitama, Dan Van Sweden and Jordan Pendleton, who is expected to make the switch from safety to outside linebacker this spring.
Nelson and Van Sweden are easily the most experienced of the group that will vie for spots on the two-deep at the strongside position. Both have cut their teeth during practice and both have at least some game experience, which should help them when competing for the position.
Tuitama showed some promise before tailing off a bit as he struggled to keep his weight up. This spring will provide ample opportunity for him to make a spot for himself on the two-deep roster.
In what may be the biggest news, Pendleton is expected to switch over from safety to compete at strongside linebacker. After toiling for a spot at safety his first two years, Pendleton brings an extremely athletic option to the linebacking corps, and he's subsequently sure to get a lot of first-team looks by the time spring practices commence.
At weak side, Coleby Clawson returns after starting throughout most of last season. Clawson provided very good run support and solid play, though he struggled a bit with covering in space. That is something he'll most certainly be working on this spring.
Spring will be our first opportunity to see midyear transfer Jordan Atkinson perform. Atkinson comes from the junior college ranks and could be an option to play at inside linebacker, although if he competes at outside linebacker it will be at the weakside position.
Jadon Wagner provides another exciting option at weakside linebacker. Wagner's potential is enormous and if he can learn to be assignment-sound in Hill's defense, then he could very well see himself on top of the depth chart come BYU's opening game against Oklahoma.
Jefferson Court will also be competing at the weakside position. Court was a highly regarded preferred walk-on last year as a true freshman.
Meanwhile it looks as if the Cougars will have to make do without perhaps the most exciting option at outside linebacker in Vic So'oto, who will at the very least be missing most of spring practice due to a foot injury.
So'oto is an option to play and start at either strongside or at weakside, but will likely have only the August practice session to compete at either position.
Mike and Buck
At inside linebacker the Cougars will return a wealth of experience in Matt Bauman, Shawn Doman, Matt Ah You and Terrance Hooks, all of who return to compete at the inside linebacker spots this spring.
Both Bauman and Doman started last season and showed improvement as the season came to a close, and both will be working hard this spring to improve all facets of their game. Their vast experience should work as a huge bonus at the Mike and at the Buck positions, respectively.
Both Ah You and Hooks logged some good playing time last season as well. Ah You had the obstacle of getting his mission legs back, while Hooks had to overcome a devastating preseason patella injury that really limited his effectiveness when he came back. With both issues hopefully behind them, they both provide some exciting options at inside linebacker.
Brandon Ogletree rounds out the scholarship players that will be competing at linebacker. Ogleetree returned from his mission last year and will be looking to make a spot for himself on the two-deep roster this coming season.
A slew of walk-ons will also be competing. I admittedly don't know much about most of them at this time. But as always, TBS will be at every spring practice session taking note of any and every development that happens at linebacker and at all other positions on the football team.