Fall Practice Preview: Linebackers

With the graduation of six regular contributors, there's a lot of question marks at linebacker. Indeed, starting this Saturday, there looks to be more that needs to be sorted out with the inside and outside linebackers than with any other position excluding quarterback. However, there is some good talent returning and with some very promising newcomers that will attempt to bring stability.

Matt Bauman, Shawn Doman, Terrance Hooks, Coleby Clawson, Dan Van Sweden, and Grant Nelson are all gone, and with them a wealth of experience and stability to both linebacker positions, especially at the inside. In a 3-4 defense that is predicated on the abilities of the inside backers to make plays, that's a scary prospect indeed.

The good news is that the cupboard isn't bare, as there is some experience returning and some very promising up-and-coming talent. Add to that the talents of Jordan Pendleton, who looks to be the second coming of Bryan Kehl, and there certainly are some promising parts that could suffice.

Returning Inside Talent

The group of returning inside linebacker options will be led by Brandon Ogletree (5-11, 222 So.), who saw some good special teams work as a freshman and looks to be fully healthy after sitting out most of spring with a hand injury. Ogletree has the right attitude for an inside linebacker, as he's consistently described as being one of the more fearless players on the team.

Aveni Leung-Wai (6-1, 221 Jr.) competed for the first time in spring and looked to have some promise, and coaches will look for him to find a spot on the two-deep roster - if not start at one of the two inside positions. Shane Hunter (5-10, 236 Sr.) has seemingly been in the program since we started covering the team almost eight years ago, and he could finally get his shot to be a regular contributor this year as a senior.

It's still unclear whether or not Uona Kaveinga (6-0, 245 Jr.) will be cleared by the NCAA to play this year after his transfer prior to USC receiving penalties for multiple violations. Should he be cleared, he'll certainly be someone to look at as a possible starter or as a regular contributor at the very least.

Add to those players three or possibly four others, couple them with some walk-ons, and that's it in regards to returning talent at inside linebacker, which should give cause for some concern.

Promising New Talent

Austen Jorgensen (6-3, 230 Fr.) is someone many are looking for to not only start, but be the primary playmaker for the Cougar inside backers this coming season. He's been home from his mission for a while now and should be raring to go after showing some very promising talent prior to his mission service.

Zac Stout (6-2, 230) was a headlining recruit in 2010 and will be looked at to not only contribute as a true freshman, but perhaps start at the critical Mike linebacker spot. It's rare that head coach Bronco Mendenhall will mention an incoming player as someone they're looking at to help them in the coming year, but he did that several times with Stout when discussing the inside linebacker talent for the 2010 season. That speaks loudly to how he'll be regarded by coaches coming in.

Collin Keoshian (6-3, 240) is the other incoming true freshman that signed in 2010, and like Stout, he has a wealth of talent and ability. What makes Keoshian unlike Stout, however, is that he wasn't able to perform and star against the best in the country as Stout did during high school.

More Security on the Outside

The returning experience is much more strong at the outside positions than on the inside, starting with Jordan Pendleton (6-2, 228 Jr.). He exploded onto the scene last season and finished out having one of the more impressive season-long performances at outside linebacker that fans have seen since Bryan Kehl manned the strong side spot. Pendleton sat out spring with injuries, but should be fully recovered in time for the season and will help out the defense immensely.

Jordan Atkinson (6-3, 243 Sr.) sat out a lot of spring camp with his own injury problems, but looks to have those put behind him this fall. Atkinson is a similar type of player to what the team saw with Coleby Clawson at weak side linebacker, but could be moved inside should coaches deem it necessary.

Jameson Frazier (6-2, 210 Jr.) had one of the better spring camps of anyone on the team and will most likely secure his spot as Pendleton's primary backup at the strong side position.

Kyle Van Noy (6-4, 225) is one of the most exciting prospects on the team, and with him coming off a successful spring, coaches could move Atkinson inside should Van Noy prove able to start as a true freshman.

Alani Fua (6-6, 220 Fr.) may very well be tried out at either defensive end or outside linebacker, and should have some impact at either position considering his athletic talents.

Walk-ons that hope to contribute include such players as A.J. Van Valkenburg (6-1, 195 Sr.), Tom Steele (6-0, 215 Fr.), Matt Santos (6-3, 215 Fr.) and spring practice standout Connell Hess (6-0, 210 So.), among others.

Overall, linebacker will be the position other than quarterback that we'll be watching most this coming month, as there are a host of different possibilities that need to be sorted out on the two-deep roster in time for the 2010 season.

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