Spring practice starts in less than a week. In the run up to the start of spring football, we will be looking at the 10 biggest questions. We have already taken a look at several questions, and next up is looking at who will step up at linebacker this spring. In 2015, Utah had arguably its best group of linebackers ever with first team All-Pac-12 linebacker Gionni Paul, second team All-Pac-12 linebacker Jared Norris, and Jason Whittingham. All three were seniors last year, so Utah has the challenging task of completely rebuilding their linebacking corps. Uaea Masina, who had the potential to be a starter, retired earlier this year from football due to mounting injuries.
The linebacker corps will get some help this fall with the arrival of JUCOs David Laufatasaga and Kurtis Taufa, in addition to Donavan Thompson (and possible linebacker Davir Hamilton). These players will add talent and depth to the position. The problem for Utah is that none of those players arrive until after spring football, so the question is, who can step up in spring? Can at least one linebacker emerge this spring as a possible starter? Utah is short on scholarship linebackers this spring. Sophomore Cody Barton and junior Sunia Tauteoli have the most playing experience. There is also redshirt freshman Jake Jackson.
Jackson was part of Utah's 2012 recruiting class; he went on a two year LDS Church Mission prior to enrolling at Utah. Jackson was a tackling machine in high school, but he has not played in a game since 2011 as a senior in high school. He did participate in spring football for Utah last year.
Tauteoli is my personal favorite to emerge. Tauteoli was originally planning to go to Utah State after leaving Snow College, but he changed his mind and decided on Utah instead. He was a rare three to play three JUCO transfer. He recorded 92 tackles in his only season playing at Snow (in 2013). While he did not play much in games, he showed in practice he is instinctual and is always around the football. He has a relentless motor. Now that he is not in the shadow of Norris, Paul, and Whittingham, Tauteoli has a great opportunity to shine. He is a little undersized at only 220 pounds, but he has all offseason to add some bulk, and he is stronger than one might guess from his size alone.
Barton came to Utah as a 210 pound safety. Not possessing the speed to play safety in the Pac-12, Barton has bulked up to 6'2", 232 and has the frame to add even more good weight. He saw time last year as a true freshman on special teams. He is the younger brother of tackle Jackson Barton. Both of his parents were also athletes at Utah. Barton (along with Britain Covey) was part of Utah's 2015 recruiting class, but his scholarship was pushed forward, so he could play in 2015, but his scholarship would not count until 2016. Barton has an excellent chance to show off his skills this spring.
There is also Chase Hansen. We wrote an article here on his potential position. Prior to his emergence at quarterback last spring (and safety during the season), most thought Hansen was destined to become a linebacker. He is currently a little undersized for the position (at only 212 pounds), but he is a smart player and a hard hitter. While I would not be surprised if Hansen does not end up at linebacker, I also would not count him out.
The Utah defense returns a lot of talent at defensive line and defensive back, so the new crop of linebackers will have a lot of talent around them. For the Utah defense to be great though, they will need several talented players to emerge at linebacker.
10 Biggest Spring Questions: