Despite loss of Kyle Van Noy, BYU Cougars confident in outside linebackers
Matt Gade, Deseret News
PROVO — No doubt, BYU will miss Kyle Van Noy.
The All-America outside linebacker single-handedly impacted the outcome of multiple games during his Cougar career with his uncanny playmaking ability. Van Noy is expected to be selected late in the first round, or early in the second round, of next month’s NFL draft.
But don’t feel too badly for BYU outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga, who is excited for what the future holds at that position despite the loss of Van Noy.
Bronson Kaufusi was switched from defensive line to outside linebacker during the spring, and Poppinga liked what he saw from the 6-foot-7, 263-pound junior.
“There were a lot of questions before spring (practices), like, can he do it?” Poppinga said. “Everyone’s trying to compare him to Kyle. He’s not Kyle. He’s completely different. He does some things better than Kyle. He doesn’t do some things that Kyle did. But we are going to be really good at that spot. We knew when he came in he was going to be good. But I didn’t think he would be this good this fast. It’s very exciting to us as a coaching staff to see how fast he picked up stuff. The coverage stuff he struggled with at the beginning, but he came along.”
Poppinga remembers one play in particular during the final week of spring that epitomizes Kaufusi’s capabilities on the outside.
“He made a play that blew my mind. He chased Taysom (Hill) down from the backside all the way to the other sideline and got him. It was super impressive. He needs to play that fast and continue to be physical. That’s something we’ll work on.”
At the other outside spot, Alani Fua, a 6-5, 215-pound senior, returns after a strong junior campaign.
“Alani was consistent. He knows exactly what to do,” Poppinga said. “He plays super fast, and he’s a super athlete. Having him back is going to be great. I’m glad to see the jump he’s taken from his junior year to his senior year. Alani needs to continue to get stronger and gain weight. Having a 6-7 and a 6-5 guy out there — we’re going to be able to cause some damage out there next season.”
During spring ball, BYU was thin at outside linebacker due to injuries, as Michael Alisa, Kevan Bills and Sae Tautu were sidelined. They are expected be to ready by August.
And during the summer, things should get even better when three highly touted freshmen linebackers — Fred Warner, Tyler Cook and Troy Hinds — join the program to provide added depth. Warner and Cook are just out of high school, while Hinds is returning from an LDS mission. New NCAA rules permit coaches to work with incoming players during the summer months.
“It will be fun to get them all here,” Poppinga said of the freshmen. “I’m anxious for the summertime when I can get the three freshmen in here and start working with them, helping them learn the scheme and making sure they’re getting bigger and stronger. Their heads will be spinning once fall camp comes. Hopefully I can prepare them enough to where they’re good to go in August.”
If everyone is healthy, it should make for a competitive atmosphere in fall camp at outside linebacker.
“I’m fired up,” Poppinga said. “Having these other guys come in and being able to push these two top guys (Bronson and Fua) — they weren’t pushed very often during the spring because of the injuries — we’re very anxious to see these young guys come in and compete with these other guys and push them a little bit. I’m anxious to get these guys healthy and the other guys here to compete and push Alani and Bronson. I don’t want them to feel comfortable. I want them to feel like somebody’s coming after them, and their spots aren’t safe. They can’t feel complacent and think they’ve arrived. That’s why it’s always good to have competition.”
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