A linebacker can be a leader of a team’s defense and can often be at the forefront of tackles for loss. Sacks are usually attributed to members of the defensive line, but linebackers are the players who usually watch the running back or cover the middle of the field for short passing routes. The linebackers are responsible for covering the middle of the field and Utah’s linebackers look to stand tall in the Pac-12, with veteran leadership and strong players at key positions.
Chase Hansen looks strong in his new position this year. The senior transferred from the safety position, where he was an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016. Francis Bernard also joins a stacked group after departing from Brigham Young University this summer.
Cody Barton and Donavan Thompson are both returning starters who look to help the Utes cover the middle of the field. Barton had a stellar season, creating turnovers and tying for the Pac-12 lead with three fumble recoveries.
This is a seasoned group of coverage-heavy players who are no strangers to getting after quarterbacks and tackling runners behind the line of scrimmage. Barton had 4 sacks alone last year. The ability to force turnovers is a coveted feature among prospective linebackers. Utah, while experienced, is in a conference full of NFL-ready players at the position.
The Huskies out of the University of Washington have one of the stronger linebacking corps in the country. Ryan Bowman, DJ Beavers and returning senior Ben Burr-Kirven lead a very talented group who are looking to be one of the top defenses in the country.
The University of Southern California and Stanford both have fantastic players at linebacker as well and most of the rosters in the South are littered with players that will find themselves playing Sundays for the NFL after they finish college. Bobby Okereke, a senior linebacker for the Cardinals, has led the group for the majority of his playing time at Stanford. The Buffaloes of Colorado University also have strong players in their group, with potential All-Pac-12 play coming from seniors Drew Lewis and Rick Gamboa.
Most of the information circling the conference points to the fact that there’s no team with glaring holes at linebacker. Utah is at the lower end of most power rankings in the position, but that doesn’t mean the group itself isn’t a force to be reckoned with. Oregon State, one of the worst teams in college football last year, had a great linebacker group with Jonathan Willis and Andrzej Hughes-Murray leading a talented group of players.
On the defensive side of the ball, a linebacker can be a force when it comes to changing the pace of play and usually turnovers are attributed to linebackers intercepting crossing routes through the middle of the field. Utah wants to utilize their veteran group of linebackers for just that role.