The Utah linebackers shocked everyone in 2013 with tremendous play after struggling in spring and fall camp. Jason Whittingham was an absolute stud. Adding Gionni Paul to the mix only makes the group better, but injuries and depth issues kept some guys from fully participating and the unit from gelling in the spring. That said, Utah's linebackers should be the best unit on the team on either side of the ball.
Gionni Paul finally got the reps he's been longing for. After a redshirt season due to transfer rules, the middle linebacker from Miami had a huge impact on the defense in the spring. Often looking like the best player on the field, Paul was everywhere making tackles, breaking up passes, and quarterbacking a linebacking group that should be even better than the outstanding one Utah had last season. Then it all came crashing down when Paul suffered a foot injury and was forced to have surgery. The timetable for his return is unknown, but could extend into the regular season. The Utes have plenty of players that can step into his shoes, but none that will be as good as Paul will be. Getting him back sooner will only make a good group great.
Jared Norris participated in spring ball as much as the coaches would allow. He was very effective in the reps he did get, and the junior-to-be looks improved in pass coverage over last season. Not wanting him to get hurt kept Norris out of a lot of the contact drills, but he showed that he's better than last season and arguably the best athlete on the team at linebacker.
Uaea Masina made big strides from year one to year two with his performance in the spring. He's a heady kid that always knows where the ball is going. Still struggles at times in pass coverage and can get pushed around at his size but Masina is an improved linebacker over last season. With the injury issues, he was on the field a ton making plays. The kid just needs to eat and add some weight. Looking like he's around 220 pounds won't cut it at linebacker in the Pac-12 if he wants extended reps.
Jacoby Hale didn't make it deep into camp, tearing his ACL a couple of days in. He'll be sidelined for months and may miss the entire 2014 season. That cuts into Utah's pass rush as Hale, even at the linebacker spot, would have arguably been the team's top pass rusher.
Marcus Sanders-Williams made the move from running back to linebacker midway through camp when Paul went down and showed a lot of promise. He's fairly instinctual and played pretty well. Sanders-Williams isn't afraid to hit and has solid ball skills in pass coverage, picking off multiple passes in spring. It will take a bit of time and a redshirt year is very possible, but Utah may have a player down the line in Sanders-Williams.
Sharrieff Shah Jr. and Tanner Larsen both saw extended reps with the depth chart looking sparse due to injuries were serviceable. With time, both could be contributors.
Utah really just needs everyone to get healthy. When Jason Whittingham returns and if Gionni Paul and eventurally Jacoby Hale don't take too long to get back, this could be a special group.
Spring Linebacker Position Rankings
1. Gionni Paul
2. Jared Norris
3. Uaea Masina
4. Marcus Sanders-Williams
5. Tanner Larsen
6. Sharrieff Shah Jr.
Spring Review: Linebackers
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