After his play last season, fans can readily assume that Jordan Pendleton is well on his way to being mentioned in the same breath with former players such as Kehl and Nixon. Playing from his strong side linebacker position, he's been given a lot of responsibility and area to cover. But if last season was any indication, the best is yet to come.
"Jordan Pendleton is coming off of a very good year last year," said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He's proven that he can make plays and make an impact with every game, he's completely trustworthy to us as a coaching staff, and he'll play a big part in our defensive success this year to be certain."
Indeed, strong contribution from Pendleton is a given in the eyes of many based on his very promising play last year as a mere sophomore. The other parts making up the BYU outside linebacker ranks are very much unknown commodities at this point, starting with brand new position coach Nick Howell.
Intense and Active
Coach Howell replaced long-time assistant Barry Lamb as the outside linebacker coach this season after having served since 2007 as a graduate assistant within the program. Mendenhall holds strong to the belief that the first place one should look when filling a position on the staff is within the program.
Fortunately for him, good talent and experience existed in the form of Coach Howell, who has provided some very good work for the staff over the past three seasons.
"If I went out and did a nationwide search, I wouldn't have found anyone that knows more about our program, cares more about the program and loves football as much as Coach Howell," said Mendenhall. "From day one, Coach Howell has put in the time and really has done everything and then some that we require as a graduate assistant. When it came time to choose a new assistant coach for the outside linebackers after Coach Lamb moved on, I really didn't have to look anywhere or think about bringing someone else in. We had the right guy in Coach Howell, so there was no need to look."
So far Coach Howell has already earned the respect and trust of not only his fellow coaches, but from the players he coaches.
"I love him as a coach," said Pendleton. "He already had my respect and all of our respect as a graduate assistant, and now we have at least as much respect, if not more. He's a great coach to play for."
What Howell brings to the position is a coach who is active and intense. Every practice session he's an active participant with every position drill the defense takes part in, and that's something that isn't lost on his players.
"Coach Howell is very smart and knows the game as well as anyone," explained Pendleton. "The word I'd use to describe him would be ‘intense.' He's never dull, he always has something that we need to learn or hear, so we're always on the edge of our seats and it's good to have a younger guy going through drills with us."
The players that will be competing with Pendleton and adding to the strength of the outside linebacker unit will be three players who have both shown very well this past spring practice session also this fall. They'll be joined by a savvy junior college vet in Jordan Atkinson, who is battling through some injury issues that have limited his practice reps.
Should he prove healthy, Atkinson will provide a very physical Coleby Clawson-like presence to the Will linebacker position.
"That's what [Atkinson] does best; he's very physical and he really knows how to get after it," said Jameson Frazier, who himself has competed at the Will linebacker spot this fall. "It's great watching him play and learning from him because he's such a physical player, and that's really helped me learning how to play a little like him."
Physicality is exactly what Frazier has lacked since entering the program, as he's struggled to put on the necessary weight to shed blocks in order to provide good and consistent run support. He hopes those days are behind him, as he focused on keeping his weight up this past offseason.
Through some close monitoring of his workouts and through a diet that entails eating as much food and as often as possible, he's put on 20 good pounds that he hopes will improve his prospects as an every-down type of player.
"So far, I've done well with the weight," he related. "I don't feel any slower, so I'm good in coverage still. But rushing the quarterback and providing run support, that's what I've really improved on, I feel. In playing a lot of Will linebacker instead of Sam, I've been able to really work on those things which I love. I don't care which position I play. I love rushing the quarterback and covering guys. I just want to play."
If Mendenhall's quotes are any indication, Frazier will play and be a big part in the success of the defense.
"He's just continued to impress with every day from spring," Mendenhall said about Frazier.
The next player up is one of the more intriguing true freshmen on the team in Kyle Van Noy. Since practices began, one of the bigger challenges I've faced as an every-day observer/reporter is finding a way to keep his play out of my notes, as he's been sacking quarterbacks, throwing running backs for losses and knocking down passes with every practice session.
"Kyle is an extremely talented player who could really help us," noted Pendleton. "I've been out a lot this fall, but it's been great watching him and how much he's improved since spring. He's making plays a lot and that is what he needs to do to play. So far, I'm very impressed with him."
The last part is somewhat a surprise in Zeke Mendenhall, who started the fall practice session manning the Sam position with the first-team defense, although he's given way somewhat to both Frazier and Van Noy at the position.
"Zeke is very good in coverage and has really come on strong," said Pendleton. "He's a smart player who knows his assignments and he'll help us this year for sure."
Look for Zeke to be used primarily as a third-and-long situational back with Van Noy solidifying himself every day as the first or second option at Will and with Frazier solidifying himself as the second option at Sam. Overall, the top five players at outside linebacker look strong leading up to the season.
"We have a very good group of guys competing at both outside linebacker spots," summed up Coach Mendenhall. "There is a lot of talent there and we're gaining a lot of trust in some of the new guys. I feel relatively confident that we'll be strong at outside linebacker this year."
A couple of true freshmen are also helping out at outside linebacker, as both Sae Tautu and Alani Fua have seen their reps increase as practices have gone on. They're both running primarily with the third-team defensive unit.
"They're talented guys," said Pendleton about the true freshmen. "Right now they have a lot to learn, but from what I've seen, they have the athleticism to progress and really help us out with depth."