This is part five of a six-part series previewing the various positions of BYU's football team leading in to spring football. In this piece, Brandon Gurney takes a look at the Cougars' linebackers. In part four, Brandon reviewed the defensive line.
PROVO — It’s imperative to have a group of good, play-making linebackers in a 3-4 defensive alignment, and BYU looks to have just that this coming season.
Bronco Mendenhall switched to a 3-4 system back in 2006 when the team was well-stocked with prime play-making ability at linebacker, and the team has largely maintained that ability since. This year’s group includes what may be the best set of outside linebackers in recent history and some good up-and-coming talent at inside linebacker.
Kyle Van Noy obviously headlines the linebacking group and most likely headlines the entire team. What more can the 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior prove this spring?
The answer is nothing, and it’s why he’ll likely see limited reps throughout the month of March.
On the other side is Spencer Hadley (6-foot-1, 227-pound senior), who played very well at strong-side linebacker last season along with Alani Fua (6-foot-5, 215-pound junior), who contributed heavily to the group's success last season.
All three should reprise their roles from last season and should be that much better given another year.
Kevan Bills (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) was practicing very well at weak-side linebacker last year before having to sit out the 2012 season with injury. He’ll be back this spring and looking to land himself on the two-deep roster come fall.
Other options at outside linebacker include Teu Kautai (6-foot-1, 216-pound sophomore), and Jherremya Leuta-Douyere (6-foot-0, 236-pound sophomore). Kautai will compete at strong-side linebacker while Leuta-Douyere will battle at weak side after showing very well during practices as a true freshman.
Joey Owens (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) is home from his mission and will compete for a spot at strong-side linebacker.
BYU lost a lot with the graduations of both Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga, but the inside linebacker position was deep last season with some good talent pushing the starters during practice sessions.
The returning group is led by Uani Unga (6-foot-1, 233-pound senior), who saw a good amount of playing time last season and is expected to start this season. Manoa Pikula (6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore) has logged a lot of practice time and should prove the favorite to start alongside Unga.
The depth behind both Unga and Pikula is a bit thin and includes Tyler Beck (6-foot-1, 220-pound senior), who has battled through injuries since joining the program, and Taloa’I Ho Ching, who recently returned from serving a two-year LDS mission.
Given the lack of depth inside, coaches may opt to switch some outside linebackers to the inside positions.
Overall this looks to be a very good unit as a whole, and particularly so if Unga, Pikula and others can match the play of Ogletree and Kaveinga last season, which won’t be an easy task.
This is part five of a six-part series previewing the various positions of BYU's football team leading in to spring football. In this piece, Brandon Gurney takes a look at the Cougars' linebackers. In part six, Brandon reviews the defensive backfield.