Spring Practice Preview: Linebackers

With the graduation of five senior contributing linebackers from a season ago, there are a lot of voids to be filled this spring in preparation for the 2010 season. Unfortunately, a lot of those looked at to fill those voids will not be participating in spring practices, which will make the difficulty of finding adequate replacements for 2010 all that more difficult.

Linebacker is a critical position in a 3-4 defensive system, as the linebackers are counted on to be the primary playmakers. Therefore, having to replace three of the starting four linebackers from a year ago would seem a bit daunting by any evaluation.

Linebacker coaches Paul Tidwell and Scott Howell - who will be subbing for Coach Barry Lamb this spring - have some good young talent that they'll work to develop in the coming weeks. While there is some experience returning at outside linebacker, the inside linebacker spots will feature a load of inexperience.

As if to compound the task, expected contributors and even frontrunners at inside linebacker, Brandon Ogletree and Shane Hunter, will be forced to miss contact drills due to injury. Overall there won't be much to select from at inside linebacker, but it will give a prime opportunity for some young players in the program to show if they have what it takes.

At outside linebacker the Cougars will be without returning starter Jordan Pendleton as he recovers from injury or spot-starter Grant Nelson, who has left the team for an internship. Some cross-training and mixing and matching may certainly occur, as coaches look to only have 10-to-11 healthy bodies to utilize unless there are any additions that aren't currently on the roster.

Jordan Atkinson 6-3, 243 Sr.

Although he's slated to play at the weakside linebacker position, Atkinson looks to be a prime candidate to switch over to inside linebacker. He has seen extensive practice reps at the inside position, but gravitated toward outside linebacker last season because there was a surplus of inside linebackers.

This year there isn't a surplus anywhere, which gives cause to believe that Atkinson may be moved around. Last season he proved to be a capable playmaker and coaches will be relying heavily on his abilities this spring.

Masi Tuitama 6-2, 215 So.

Tuitama has been in Coach Lamb's doghouse since arriving at BYU, but has shown some flashes of stellar play and could really benefit from this spring practice session. Due to injuries to others, he'll likely see extensive work at the strongside linebacker spot.

Jameson Frazier 6-2, 201 Jr.

Frazier has been a good practice performer, but has battled to keep his weight up to where he could contribute on the field of play. We'll see what shape he shows up in and if he can reach 220 while maintaining his speed, then he should rise to become a consistent contributor on defense.

Tyler Beck 6-1, 210 Fr.

Although not listed on the roster, Beck has enrolled and was expected to compete hard for a spot after returning home from his mission. During workouts he sustained an injury although the extent thereof has not been determined as of yet. Should he be able to participate, he should make a strong bid to break the two-deep roster at inside linebacker.

Austen Jorgensen 6-3, 230 Fr.

Jorgensen, like Beck, is not listed on the roster, but has enrolled and should be participating in spring practices. He is someone who impressed as a true freshman, and should be one of the frontrunners to start at one of the two inside linebacker positions upon his return from his mission.

Aveni Leung-Wai 6-1, 220 So.

Leung-Wai, who returned from his mission this past fall, is someone who should get a lot of reps at inside linebacker. He's been raring to go and spring will see what type of impact he'll make on the team in preparation for the 2010 season.

Kyle Van Noy 6-4, 209 Fr.

A lot of anticipation surrounds Van Noy and what type of contribution he can make during his initial season at BYU. Should he meet expectations and provide good play at the weakside linebacker spot, then that will go a long way in allowing coaches to further mix and match their existing talent with players such as Jordan Atkinson.

Van Noy comes to BYU as one of the more highly regarded athletes ever signed by the program. Word is that he's looked every part of his hype, and we'll see how that translates to the practice field and hopefully on to the field of play this coming season.

Walk-on Options

There is a good crew of walk-on options that exist at the linebacker position, headed by practice standouts Chase Hansen (6-2, 220 So.) and Connell Hess (6-0, 210 So.). They'll be joined by Austin Nielsen (6-0, 233 So.) and Mathew Relei (6-0, 203 Fr.).

Overall, I can't remember a single practice session that started with nearly as much inexperience and subsequent question marks at linebacker as this one. Coaches will have their work cut out for them as they replace so many long-time valuable contributors. There could be a lot of player movement, as linebacker is a position where one certainly does not want to be lacking able bodies and overall talent.

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