PROVO — When it comes to BYU's linebackers and defensive backs, a key word to use is selection. This is a season the Cougars have enough quality "selection" and "choices" to create intense competition, and that leads coaches to more comfortably turn to talent for relief or injury.
That's a rare luxury BYU takes into its first season as an independent, with starting middle linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brian Ogletree leading the way up the middle behind a solid defensive line. Kaveinga and Ogletree will be backed by speedy Austen Jorgensen and returning missionary Spencer Hadley.
"We're deep," said middle linebacker coach Paul Tidwell. "We have a lot better depth than we've had most years. I feel really good about our top six linebackers with the group and feel there are a lot of guys I can play. Guys are competing hard and it's a fun group this year."
On the outside, it has been a while since anyone can remember the Cougars fielding a pair of outside linebackers at the same time with 4.4 speed like they have in Kyle Van Noy and Jordan Pendleton. It is like having a pair of Bryan Kehls on the edges. Van Noy, who can play receiver, tight end, linebacker or safety, may be the best athlete on the team. Pendleton, coming off shoulder surgery, has some of the most impressive measurables on the squad and hopes he can stay healthy this fall.
Van Noy's versatility in pass rush and drop-back pass coverage is as good as BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has had during his tenure at BYU.
Van Noy and Pendleton are backed by Jameson Frazier and CFL draftee Jadon Wagner. Both Frazier and Wagner started last season and Tidwell will not hesitate to rotate either one on the field. Wagner elected to return for his senior year despite a summer spent mulling whether to turn professional.
In situational sets, pass rush specialist Ziggy Ansah has given the Cougars additional speed and size off the edge.
BYU's secondary will be inexperienced but not without skill or talent, especially at the two corner spots. This may be the deepest BYU has been in years in this department. It will not be like in the days when fans worried what would happen if Kayle Buchanan or Ben Criddle got injured.
The Cougars will replace three starters in the secondary including both cornerbacks with the departure of Brandon Bradley and Brian Logan. The leading candidates at boundary corner are Preston Hadley and transfer Joe Sampson.
Hadley has stood out as a cover specialist and Sampson may be the most physical tackler in BYU's secondary.
At field corner, senior Corby Eason appears to have locked down that position and will be backed by redshirt freshman Jordan Johnson. Letterman Robbie Buckner could also see playing time.
At free safety, Travis Uale is the lone returning starter in the secondary and is being pushed by converted running back Mike Hague. At KAT safety, Daniel Sorensen has been working with the first team, as have lettermen Carter Mees and Jray Galea'i.
Uona Kaveinga, junior "Mike linebacker" is a transfer from USC who sat out last year. Praised by coaches and teammates for his leadership, physical play and knowledge of the game, Kaveinga is expected to be the best Cougar middle linebacker since Cameron Jensen. BYU will depend on the former Trojan to stop the run.