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Utah Football 2015: Linebackers

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Utah linebacker Gionni Paul returns in 2015 to anchor a solid Utes linebacking corps.
Utah linebacker Gionni Paul returns in 2015 to anchor a solid Utes linebacking corps.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It was a struggle for the Utes linebackers in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. It was apparent at times that the speed wasn't quite there at the second level, and the depth was always in doubt, especially when Utah would have someone go down. In the 2014 season, it seems that the linebacking corps has taken a step forward and had some serious playmakers. Fortunately, most of that talent returns in 2015.

Gionni Paul - senior

There was always a lot of excitement around the arrival of the transfer from Miami (Fla.), Gionni Paul. After missing the first two games of the 2014 season, Paul made his debut in a Utes uniform against Michigan in the Big House, and boy what a debut. He caught an interception, recovered a fumble, and led the team in tackles with 14 (10 solo). On the season, the 5-10, 227-pounder led the team in interceptions (4), was third in tackles (61), had three tackles-for-loss, and notched one sack – oh, and he only played in eight games. Paul is big time, and he'll be back in 2015. With a full season under his belt, Paul has a chance at All Pac-12 honors.

Uaea Masina - junior

Masina (6-3, 223) was on his way to being a possible starter in 2014, but an injury kept him from seeing the field. With another spring and fall camp to keep developing his body, as well as his understanding of the game, Masina will be a welcome addition to the depth of the linebackers.

Jared Norris - senior

Jared Norris (6-2, 237) was the quiet playmaker for the Utes in 2014. He didn't have the flash of Gionni Paul or Nate Orchard, but Norris was a monster this past season, leading the team with 116 tackles. Whether it was stuffing the run, or reading the read-option, Norris was as reliable of a player as the Utes had in 2014, and that will be huge going into 2015.

Marcus Sanders-Williams - junior

The running back turned linebacker has turned into a nice compliment to the depth of the linebacking corps. He was moved to the defensive side of the ball due to number of injuries the Utes were seeing in spring ball this past year. While the 5-11, 222-pound defender only had eight tackles in 2014, his speed and instincts are evident. Expect to see him in the rotation more in 2015.

Pita Taumoepenu - junior

Looking for a replacement for Nate Orchard? Don't look any farther than Pita Taumoepenu. Taumoepenu will likely be a utility guy for the Utes going forward, spending some time at defensive end, just like Orchard. Taumoepenu (6-1, 230) has a unique combination of size and speed and as an undersized defensive end, he was a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles in 2014. He had 17 total tackles in 2014, with 5.5 sacks, and those 5.5 sacks were just based off of raw speed. With more experience (and some more bulk), Taumoepenu will be a monster.

Jason Whittingham - senior

Another quiet playmaker is Jason Whittingham. Whittingham, the nephew of Kyle Whittingham, missed most of 2014 after a wrist injury. Going into 2015, Whittingham is a good run stuffer and also solid in coverage. In his breakout season of 2013, Whittingham had 81 tackles and really started to round into form in the last half of that season.

Incoming

Cody Barton

The Utes will be welcoming in Cody Barton in the fall to help the depth at linebacker. Check out his recruiting profile here.

Christopher Hart

The Utes have signed a linebacker/defensive end out of Florida this past week on signing day. The Utes website lists him as a defensive end, but he's the right size to bounce back and forth from linebacker to DE. Check out his profile here.