Spring Preview: Linebackers

The Utes are in fantastic shape at linebacker, arguably the most complete and consistent group on the entire team.

The Candidates

Jason Whittingham
Jason Whittingham's progression throughout the 2013 season was nothing short of remarkable. In just ten games, Whittingham ranked second on the team with 81 tackles, enough to earn recognition on the all-Pac-12 honorable mention list in just his sophomore season. The future looks bright for Whittingham, who could and should take over the defensive leadership role vacated by Trevor Reilly.

Jacoby Hale
One of the best pass rushers on the roster. When he was healthy, he consistently wreaked havoc in the backfield for opposing quarterbacks. Despite missing three games, Hale ranked second on the team in sacks. Pass coverage on the other hand? Not his strongest skill set, which may keep him out of the starting lineup.

Jared Norris
Jared Norris was on track for a terrific 2013 campaign before an injury derailed any chances at gaining all-conference recognition. Norris had two double digit tackle performances – 14 against Arizona and 12 against UCLA, including two sacks. Norris will be in immediate contention for a starting role this spring.

Uaea Masina
Masina cracked the three deep as a true freshman – not an easy task. Masina will have an uphill battle to knock off any of the projected starters, but that doesn't mean that he couldn't make an impact at any of the linebacker positions. Look for Masina to be a solid contributor if he can stay healthy in 2014.

Gionni Paul
At last, the time has come for Paul to play for the real "U". Transfer from Miami had to sit out the 2013 season, but watching practice you couldn't help but notice he was immediately the best of the bunch, and that isn't a knock on anyone else. Paul is just that good.

Clarence Smith
A hybrid DB/LB, Smith provides speed (4.55 40 yard dash) and can help in pass coverage. Has the size as well (230 lbs). Has a huge learning curve ahead of him though – realistically a year away from being a true contender at LB.

Alex Whittingham

Sharrieff Shah, Jr.

Sal Velasquez

Projected Depth Chart Heading Into Spring

Jason Whittingham
Uaea Masina

Jared Norris
Jacoby Hale

Gionni Paul
Clarence Smith

What Needs To Happen
Remember when injuries depleted an already thin linebacker position for Utah, leaving fans irate at the lack of consistent play out of that position group? That doesn't look to be the case anymore. With Brian Blechen moving back to his original position (safety), the Utes are still in fantastic shape at linebacker, arguably the most complete and consistent group on the entire team. You'll notice not a lot of movement in the pre vs. post spring depth charts, but that isn't a bad thing. Look for Masina and Smith to get additional reps to build up some depth, but otherwise I'd say this position group is pretty much locked down. If you make it up to any spring practices, keep an eye on #46 (Gionni Paul). You won't be disappointed.

Projected Depth Chart Coming Out of Spring

Jason Whittingham
Jacoby Hale

Jared Norris
Uaea Masina

Gionni Paul
Clarence Smith

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