Fall Practice Preview: Linebackers

A lot of experience returns at inside linebacker and at one of the outside linebacker positions. At the strong side linebacker spot, Jordan Pendleton will again mount his bid that was well underway this past spring to replace David Nixon. Overall there looks to be a lot of depth and a lot of exciting options at each linebacker position this coming fall.

With five returning seniors and three returning starters to the linebacker corps this fall, the linebackers look to be long on experience. Four of the five returning seniors, two of which started every game in 2008, are at the inside linebacker position.

Matt Bauman (6-1, 229 Sr.) leads the way playing the Mike position, which is considered to be the toughest position to learn in the current defensive system. Bauman saw noticeable improvement toward the end of last season and that improvement continued into the spring.

For defensive coordinator Jaime Hill's 3-4 system, the Mike linebacker has to be prolific in the amount of plays he makes. We'll be watching this coming fall practice session to see what progress Bauman is making in that regard. Bauman has the experience necessary to go out strong this coming season.

At the Buck linebacker position Terrance Hooks (6-1, 227 Sr.) should be raring to go following a ruptured tendon injury that severely limited his contribution last season. When healthy, Hooks is one of the best options on the team, and he looks to have regained a lot of the play he showed prior to his injury.

Together, Bauman and Hooks form a promising and experienced starting duo that will be looked upon as leaders and primary playmakers during this fall practice session. What progress they both make in this regard will certainly be worth noting during the coming preseason practices.

Rotating Options

Another senior with a wealth of experience that will be used to rotate in and play a big role at both ILB positions is Shawn Doman (6-2, 232.). Doman has logged quality playing time in each of the last two seasons, at times showing great playmaking ability.

Doman has battled to keep his weight up and has also battled chronic back problems since starting his career at BYU. When healthy, Doman has proven to be an effective playmaking option with above-average speed. His progress and his health will be watched consistently throughout fall camp.

Dan Van Sweden (6-2, 232) is the other senior option at inside linebacker. Van Sweden has moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker alternatively throughout his career at BYU. He is coming off a productive spring and will battle for a rotating role on the two-deep roster this month.

New Options

Junior college transfer Jordan Atkinson (6-3, 243 Jr.) debuted in Cougar blue this past spring and proved to be an exciting option to fill in at inside linebacker. Atkinson has the goods to contribute this coming year, but may be ticketed for a redshirt due to the senior depth ahead of him at the position.

Atkinson could demand playing time if he beats out any of the rotating senior options this month. During the spring he shone at times playing primarily with the second- and third-team defensive units. What role he takes and how he'll be used this coming year will be worth noting.

Brandon Ogletree (6-0, 222 Fr.) was someone coaches readily noted as being impressive before his spring was cut short due to a broken hand. This fall he'll look to pick up where he left off. Look for Ogletree to compete hard and lead the scout team while providing great promise of future on-the-field play at the inside linebacker position.

Strong on the weak side

Coleby Clawson (6-3, 234 Sr.) started last season at the weak side outside linebacker position and proved to be a tenacious run-defender and good pass-rusher after transferring to BYU from Snow college. By playing defensive end while at Snow, he was well prepared to defend against the run while mounting an effective pass rush.

What Clawson struggled a bit with was covering receivers in space. It's an aspect of his game that he's noticeably worked very hard on, and the strides he's made were apparent during the spring. Should Clawson prove effective at covering in space this fall, it will go a long way in tightening up the overall coverages.

Clawson's primary backup looks to be Grant Nelson (6-3, 226 Jr.), who has a lot of time in the program and the trust from the Cougar coaching staff. Nelson has been a steady presence at either outside linebacker position for some time now.

Two of the more intriguing options we'll be keeping a close eye on this coming fall practice session are Jameson Frazier (6-2, 201 So.) and true freshman Richard Wilson (6-3, 222).

Frazier switched over from wide receiver this past spring and provided a lot of promising play from the position. He has a wealth of talent and potential and should make a serious bid for a spot on the two-deep roster this month.

Wilson meanwhile has created a stir during the offseason workouts. He was asked to play outside linebacker this year with the option to switch back to tight end following the 2009 season. During workouts he's shown great athleticism and superior speed, which could help find himself a spot on the two-deep roster at either outside linebacker position.

In addition to Frazier and Wilson will be such players as Jefferson Court (6-3, 212 Fr.)...

...and true freshman Remington Peck (6-5, 222), who will both battle for spots at WOLB during August.

Depending on Pendleton

One of the better stories this past spring was the strides made by Jordan Pendleton (6-2, 228 So.). After being lost in the shuffle at strong safety, Pendleton switched over to the critical strong side linebacker position and stayed there, playing consistently with the first-team unit from the first snap of spring to the last.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall indicated the coaching staff was very happy with Pendleton's progress and said that he'll likely stay at the first-team spot up until they kickoff against Oklahoma. He'll likely remain there for the remainder of his eligibility at BYU should he prove equal to the task. We'll be watching to see how much improvement Pendleton has made in his game.

Backing up Pendleton will be such players as Masi Tuitama (6-2, 215 Fr.)...

...who made good strides during the spring, and Aveni Leung-Wai (6-1, 220 So.), who recently returned from his mission and could be used at any of the four linebacker positions.

Other options at the inside and outside positions include such players as Jeff Bell (6-0, 218 Sr.)...

...Chase Hansen (6-3, 207 So.)...

...Connell Hess (6-0, 210 Fr.)...

...Shane Hunter (5-10, 236 Jr.)...

...and Austin Nielsen (6-0, 233 Fr.)...

...who will all work to add depth this coming fall practice session.

Overall the main intrigue this coming fall surrounds who will end up on the two-deep roster as the starting positions are largely worked out. Any and every movement on the depth chart, as well as what strides some of the incoming freshmen and returned missionaries make, will be things we'll be noting throughout practices.

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