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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Linebacker Zayne Anderson poses for a photo at BYU's indoor practice facility in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.

PROVO — During the offseason, BYU’s defensive coaches decided they wanted to put more speed on the field.

As part of that plan to get faster, they made several position changes, which included the switching of senior Zayne Anderson from ball-hawking safety to “flash” (outside) linebacker. Anderson started 12 games at safety last year.

At the same time, linebackers coach Ed Lamb told Anderson he would need to add bulk to his frame in order to play that position.

“I thought if I put on weight I’d lose my speed and that’s what I’m here for,” Anderson said.

Still, he gained 15 pounds and the 6-foot-2 Stansbury Park High School product now weighs 215 pounds.

The result?

“I feel just as fast or faster,” said Anderson, who’s clocked at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. “It’s weird, but I do. I’ve been working really hard during the offseason on my speed and also keeping my weight up. I feel fast still. I’m breaking on the ball pretty fast.”

Anderson’s ability to break on the ball has been clearly evident as he's become one of the stars of fall camp. And he feels comfortable in his new role.

He’s great. You hate talking about it because he hasn’t done anything yet in a game, but he’s adjusted just fine because he’s fast.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake on safety turned linebacker Zayne Anderson

“It’s been fun so far. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment,” Anderson said. “They’re two different positions but they’re pretty similar in a way.”

“Any nerves he had at first about his ability to do it are now gone,” Lamb said. “He realizes he can be a really good player. Our offensive coaches and players have told him, ‘Wow, you’re really disruptive at that spot. Good move for you.’”

Of course, Anderson is trying to fill a giant void left by the guy that played the flash linebacker position last season — Fred Warner, who became a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers last spring.

“Fred was a baller for us last year. He was a leader for the whole defense,” Anderson said. “Linebacker is a position that requires a lot of leadership because you’re connected with the defensive backs and the defensive line. Just having Fred there last year, he was a stud for us. I’ve got big shoes to fill. We’re obviously two different players but I’ve learned a lot from Fred.”

“Zayne watched Fred’s success at that position,” Lamb said. “When we brought up the idea of him moving to that position, there was a legacy of success. Zayne can aspire to try to match that.”

The biggest adjustment for Anderson at his new position?

“It’s really the speed of taking on and shedding blocks that’s going to be the challenge for any safety moving to linebacker,” Lamb said. “When guys move closer (to the line of scrimmage), they’ve got to get ready to take on more blocks. They’re used to avoiding blocks and running around blocks. Now he’s got to take on a few more blocks.”

Anderson has worked hard at shedding blocks.

“It’s just learning different hand strikes, blitzing, coming off the edge and different techniques with that,” he said. “Being around a group of guys that has been there a long time has taught me a lot. A lot of it comes through working on 11-on-11, learning how to take on linemen. After practice every day, I’ll work on hand strikes and shedding (tackles). It’s something the whole linebacking corps isn working on. I’m not as strong as some of these guys but I can use my speed.”

Although Anderson played at safety last season — he recorded 61 tackles (three times he had a team-high nine tackles), two interceptions, two pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries — because of injuries at several positions, he cross-trained at flash linebacker.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
BYU's Zayne Anderson forces Utah running back Zack Moss out of bounds just shy of a touchdown at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017.

“I was learning this position as well. I didn’t get any game time playing flash but having that helped me during the offseason and helped me feel more where I should be,” Anderson said. “I’m still learning but I’ve picked it up pretty fast. Coming in as a new flash, I feel like I’ve had a spring to learn it. But teaching the younger guys has helped me master it as well. It helps me learn it.”

Coach Kalani Sitake has been happy with Anderson’s move to linebacker.

“He’s great. You hate talking it because he hasn’t done anything yet in a game. But he’s adjusted just fine because he’s fast,” he said. “There’s stuff we asked Fred to do, which people didn’t understand because we put him out in coverage quite a bit. Zayne is the complete opposite. He has great coverage skills so you’re looking to see if he can do the physical part of the game and he’s just fine. He’s added some bulk to his frame. The question is if he can be physical enough and he’s doing everything well physically right now.”

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As far as improving team speed, Sitake said, “It’s working out really well. The hard part was to gauge the physical part of the game. From what I saw (at last Saturday's scrimmage), with Zayne going to flash and Sione (Takitaki) back at the linebacker position, all that stuff was really good … The goal is to get the best the guys on the field. If we want to get guys into (the NFL) then we've got to put them into position where we think they’ll produce and develop into that type of body.”