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2018 (early) Position Preview – Linebackers

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Pictured: Current BYU Head Coach congradulates BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u, via deseretnews.com

When people look back at the Bronco Mendenhall era at BYU, they will think to themselves, “Linebackers.”

The center of the defense, no other position on the defense needs to be quite as versatile as the linebackers (LB.) Expected to take on a 300 lbs Offensive Lineman, bounce off and chase down the quickest player on the other team on one play, then mirror the movement of a receiver  and prevent him from catching a pass the next, the LB position group is where you go to find studs.

And studs BYU has had. And they’ve had them recently as well as days past. How about Shad Hansen, Bob Davis, Rod Wood, Kyle Van Noy, or Rob Morris? And those are just the All-Americans.

How about Uani Unga putting up 19 tackles against Notre Dame in 2013?

How about Kyle Whittingham destroying San Deigo State in 1981?

How about Shay Muirbrook dominating Kansas State in the 1997 Cotton Bowl?

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Pictured: Former BYU Linebacker, Rob Morris, tackles a Tulane player, via lawlessrepublic.com

There are hundreds of stories to be told about the LBs at BYU, and Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u will be joining that lore soon, with their own stories to tell. In 2016 the LBs made up the top 3 tacklers on the team in Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u, and Francis Bernard. It was anticipated that the trio would build upon their 2016 success and expectations sky-rocketed before 2017 began. However, trouble began brewing early and didn’t necessarily get better from there. Francis Bernard was lost for the year for undisclosed reasons, then his replacement Matt Hadley, a converted safety, was lost for the year after only 5 games.

As far as tackle volume, both Warner and Pau’u saw similar numbers in 2017 as they did the year before and made up for 2 out of the top 3 tacklers, however the biggest difference was the lack of turnovers. Combined, the LBs contributed to 4 turnovers in 2017. In 2016 Fred Warner accounted for 5 turnovers by himself.

Fred Warner pick 6 2014
Pictured: Former BYU Linebacker, Fred Warner, intercepts a pass against Boise State via blogspot.com

So far, with Kalani Sitake as Head Coach, the LB position group has had a new position coach every year, as if it were the Defense Against the Dark Arts post at Hogwarts. This year will be no exception.

The entire BYU coaching staff has officially been announced, and former Defensive Line coach and LB coach Steve Kaufusi has “stepped down to pursue other interests.” Taking over the responsibilities as the LB coach will be Assistant Head Coach Ed Lamb, who previously coached Safeties.

In his coaching career, Ed Lamb has never specifically been a LB coach before. However, he played as a linebacker for Ricks and BYU as a student, and he has coached primarily either on the defensive side of the ball or special teams. At the University of Redlands, a Division III school, Lamb coached the Defensive Line, then was the Defensive Coordinator. After a year as a Graduate Assistant at BYU, he became the Defensive Coordinator of the University of Idaho (Vandals.) Then he coached Defensive Backs at the University of San Diego. Yes, the same team we play against in WCC play for basketball has a football team (FCS.) All this was before his 7 year stint as the Head Coach of Southern Utah. So while he may not have specific LB coaching experience, he does know defense, he has playing experience, and he knows coaching.

Unlike 2017, expectations for the position group in 2018 are not sky-high, but there is still plenty of experience and talent to make the group competitive this year.

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Pictured: Current Assistant Head Coach and LB Coach Ed Lamb, via heraldextra.com

Returning starters:

Butch Pau’u (RS SR.) Butch clobbered his way into the starting rotation his Sophomore year in 2016. Despite playing in only 10 games, Butch was second on the team in tackles, behind only Fred Warner and topped out his performance by racking up 19 – 19!!! – tackles against UCLA. Last year he seemed to be on pace to at least match the previous year’s numbers, but unfortunately injuries limited him and he wasn’t able to play as much as coaches, fans, or Butch himself wanted to. His best game in 2017 was probably against Mississippi State, where he racked up 12 tackles. Butch finished the year with 74 total tackles (9 less than 2016,) 3 TFL (4 less,) 0 sacks, 0 interceptions (INTs,) and 0 forced fumbled (FF.) Last year he had at least 1 of each. A 3-star recruit out of high school, Pau’u was also recruited by Colorado, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oregon State, and Washington

Adam Pulsipher (RS SR.) The primary backup at basically any of the 3 LB positions, Pulsipher became the starter after Senior converted Safety Matt Hadley went down with a season-ending injury.  Pulsipher’s best game came against East Carolina, where he had 7 total tackles (career high.) For the year, Pulsipher only had 1 TFL, 1 FF, and 1 fumble recovery (FR,) but the first two happened in big games against LSU and Boise State respectively. His tackle total is a career high, and the FF and FR mark his first in either category. With a 4.2 GPA in high school, Pulsipher received offers from Ivy League schools and was also recruited by Stanfrod.

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Pictured: Current BYU Linebacker, Butch Pau’u, tackles a UCLA player via sltrib.com

Returning Contributors:

Morgan Unga (RS SR.) Unga saw time in 8 games in 2017, with his most significant performance coming against San Jose State, where he collected 8 tackles (career high,) a TLF, and a sack (his first.) Unga finished the year with 16 total tackles. The cousin of Harvey Unga, Morgan was also recruited by Weber State and SUU out of high school.

Johnny Tapusoa (JR.) Used primarily as a backup, Tapusoa saw action in 7 games, with his best performances coming in big games against Wisconsin and Boise State where he collected 9 of his 18 season tackles. Out of high school, Tapusoa was also recruited by Arizona State, Colorado, and San Diego State.

Isaiah Kaufusi (RS SO.) In his first year playing, Kaufusi contributed in 11 games. His best game was against Mississippi State, where he collected 6 of his 11 season tackles. A 3-star recruit out of high school, Kaufusi was also recruited by Hawaii, Utah, and Utah State.

Phillip Amone (RS SR.) Amone played in 5 games but did not record any defensive statistics. He was also recruited by Duke, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Miami, North Carolina, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

Riggs Powell (SR.) Powell did not see any playing time in 2017.

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Pictured: Current BYU Linebacker, Morgan Unga, takes down a Wyoming player via loyalcougars.com

New Faces:

Christian Folau (RS FR.) A 4-star recruit in 2017, Folau received scholarship offers from Cal, Illinois, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, TCU, Utah, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Washington, and Wisconsin. He was also recruited by Arizona State, Michigan, UCLA, and USC.

Jeremiah Ieremia (RM FR.) A 3-star recruit in 2015, Ieremia had scholarship offers from Boise State, Oregon State, Utah State, and Washington. Ieremia was also recruited by USC.

Jackson Kaufusi (RM FR.) A 3-star recruit in 2016, Kaufusi received scholarship offers from Cal, Utah, Utah State and Washington State.

Hirkley Latu (RM FR.) A 3-star recruit in 2016 , Latu also received scholarship offers from Oregon State and Utah State.

Oliver Nasilai (New Recruit) A 3-star recruit, Nasilai received scholarship offers from Air Force and Oklahoma State, and was also recruited by Arkansas and Memphis. 

Will Sedgwick (RS FR.) A 3-star recruit in 2015.

Garrett England (RS FR.) Despite having high expectations from some fans, very little is to be found about England’s recruitment.

Alex Miskela (New Recruit.)

For more information about the newest recruits, I encourage you to visit Deseret News

Grant-Jones-interception
Pictured: Former BYU Linebacker, Grant Jones, makes an interception against Boise State, via utahvalley360.com

Key Loses:

Fred Warner

Matt Hadley

Grant Jones

 

Notes:

  • Matt Hadley was a Senior last year, but had his year cut short due to injury. It is possible that he apply for a medical redshirt and return.
  • As mentioned in last week’s article, there is talk of Sione Takitaki moving to LB rather than Defensive Line. This move would make sense, as the LB position would likely be a better fit physically.
  • Isaac Matua, a new recruit, will be serving a mission before participating with the 2018 football team. Others listed may, as well.
  • ***Edit: Additional position change rumors include former RB Kavika Fonua, who will be a Senior in 2018.
  • ***Edit: Chaz Ah You, who played in 9 games last year as a true Freshmen, will be serving a mission and will not participate with the football program in 2018.
  • ***Edit: Rylee Gautavai has transferred and is no longer part of the team.
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Pictured: Former BYU Linebacker and Safety, Matt Hadley, makes a tackle against a Missouri player, via zimbio.com

Projected depth chart:
(compare to https://www.loyalcougars.com/football-roster/depth-chart/)

ROLB 1 – Adam Pulsipher
ROLB 2 – Jeremiah Ieremia
ROLB 3 – Christian Folau

MLB 1 – Butch Pau’u
MLB 2 – Johnny Tapusoa
MLB 3 – Phillip Amone

LOLB 1 – Morgan Unga
LOLB 2 – Isaiah Kaufusi
LOLB – Jackson Kaufusi

 

Translation/Final thoughts: The LB group lacks returning superstars behind Butch Pau’u, but that can change in an instant. Numerous LB burst onto the scene without having much previous game film, including Butch Pau’u himself.

The only position that seems certain, therefor, is Butch Pau’u retaining his MLB role. Though perhaps not the most naturally gifted athlete in the group, I believe Pulsipher gains an advantage over those who might unseat him as a starter due to his experience. On the other side, I give Morgan Unga a slight edge over Isaiah Kaufusi heading into Spring Camp for the last OLB starting role. If Sione Takitaki does indeed transition over to LB from the Defensive Line, I expect him to get the nod over Pulsipher, as Takitaki would be an athletic upgrade without losing any experience.

In 2017, there was talk that the trio of Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u, and Francis Bernard might be the best trio of linebackers to be on the field at the same time for the Cougars. That fell apart before it began. In 2018, there’s no such fanfare, but this group has the potential to surprise us all. I believe there is reason for optimism in the position, despite so many question marks existing. It is entirely possible that we have another Kyle Van Noy or Fred Warner that just hasn’t made their presence known yet.

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Pictured: Former BYU Linebacker, Kyle Van Noy, sacks the San Diego State Quarterback, via utahvalley360.com

Offensive Position Previews:

Defensive Position Previews:

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