There's talent at the linebacker spot for Utah, as much front-line talent as any position group on the team. The question? Are there enough bodies? With Gionni Paul limited due to an injury, and Jacoby Hale out for a few more months, Utah is VERY thin at linebacker. When your two deep at the three linebacker spots consists of a guy that is also penciled in as a starting safety, one guy as a starter at one spot and a backup at another, and a walk-on, that's not exactly a positive. Fortunately for Utah, they'll play a lot of nickel with only two linebackers on the field. The most important thing for this group: STAY HEALTHY!!! If they do, Utah will have one of the top linebacker groups in the conference.
Pre-Fall Camp Depth Chart
Uaea Masina (So)
Brian Blechen (Sr)
Jason Whittingham (Jr)
Tanner Larsen (R-Fr)
Jared Norris (Jr)
Jason Whittingham is coming off of a break-out season in 2013 where he earned honorable mention All Pac 12 honors. He sat out spring ball with an injury, which has often been the M.O. in Whittingham's career. If healthy, he'll be one of the best linebackers in the conference. If not, it's a big blow to the Utah defense. Whittingham has underrated athleticism and gets into the backfield very well for a linebacker. You'll see him line up as a defensive end at times as well.
Paul won't fully participate in fall camp and may not get any reps at all as he's coming off of a foot injury that sidelined him for the second half of spring ball. If he's healthy and in game shape, the transfer from Miami is a starter as soon as he's ready to go. Whether or not that is for game 1 against Idaho State or lingers into September is teh question. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but Paul is going to be one of the leaders of the defense, both verbally and in production. A very instinctual player, he has a nose for the ball and should eclipse 100 tackles if he can get and stay healthy.
Looking for a surprise breakout player on defense? Norris might be that guy. Overshadowed at times with the excitement around Whittingham and Paul, Norris may have the most upside of the three. Now in his second year as a starter, the freak athlete has honed to his game to the point where there aren't many holes to exploit. Norris moves well laterally and has improved his pass coverage skills substantially. He might not get the pub, but he's a stellar linebacker.
Larsen is a walk-on that is mostly on the depth chart due to depth issues. He's still a serviceable player that will get game reps, but the jury is out on what he can contribute long term over the course of the season.
Masina had a decent true freshman season tallying up a couple of tackles in limited duty. He'll be a much bigger part of the defense and someone the coaches can move around if they feel the need. Still pretty slight at around 220 pounds, the physicality of the Pac 12 could take its toll as he tries to add and keep weight on, but Masina has a lot of upside and is a very instinctual player with surefire tackling ability. Get ready to see him around the ball constantly.
Marcus Sanders-Williams made the move from running back to linebacker in the spring and looked like he was meant to play the position. There were growing pains at times, but he made it look pretty smooth and there appears to be a lot of upside. A redshirt year is a possibility as he continues to learn, but the lack of depth may press him into action sooner than the coaches would like.
Blechen is going to see most of his time at safety, but could see reps at linebacker to spell the depth issues and in certain packages. For the most part though, he'll be a safety.
Projected Depth Chart
Gionni Paul (Jr)
Fall Camp Preview: Linebackers
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