Provo • With three of the better linebackers in school history — Kyle Van Noy, Uani Unga and Spencer Hadley — departing after the 2013 season, BYU’s defensive coaches knew they would be using inexperienced players at three of the four spots this season to run alongside returnee Alani Fua.
But this is getting kind of ridiculous, with the opener against UConn three weeks away.
The projected starting inside linebackers, Zac Stout and Manoa Pikula, missed most of this past week, the first full week of camp. Stout tweaked a hamstring and Pikula hadn’t practiced through Thursday because he is trying to get some academic issues cleared up.
Projected starting weakside linebacker Bronson Kaufusi also hasn’t practiced as he nurses a hamstring injury he suffered during pre-camp conditioning.
The Cougars started two-a-days on Friday, but the media was not allowed to view either practice.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall said it is too early to panic, but acknowledged that if Kaufusi doesn’t get back on the field by the middle of next week, “I would be a little bit edgy.”
Fua, a postseason honors candidate, has the strongside (SAM) spot sewn up. Freshman Tyler Cook is emerging as his likely backup.
In Kaufusi’s absence, converted running back Mike Alisa and a trio of freshmen — Fred Warner, Troy Hinds and Steven Richards — have shared the reps at Will linebacker.
As for the inside guys, Mendenhall said neither Pikula nor Stout have those positions firmly in hand.
Utah transfer Harvey Langi and freshman Sione Takitaki are making their way up the depth chart, while sophomore Austin Heder and junior Jherremya Leuta-Douyere are also in the mix.
“We have great competition at linebacker,” Mendenhall said. “Man, when a player goes down, it doesn’t take long before someone else steps in and has an opportunity, and it is hard to get spots back … practices are going on and guys are getting better.”
Fua’s fatherly role
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 Fua is having to live up to the “Big Daddy” nickname he acquired in high school as he tutors the relative newbies at linebacker.
“Yeah, it is a little different, because last year we had Kyle and all the attention was on him and I was flying under the radar,” said Fua, who is married and has two sons. “But now, I am the only guy who has been there for awhile at outside linebacker. A lot more attention is on me to help out the younger guys. It is a little different, but it is good.”
Cornering the market
Count sophomore Dallin Leavitt among the fans of BYU’s cornerbacks, after the Portland, Ore., native was moved from cornerback to safety in the offseason.
“I have been watching BYU football since I was a little kid, and these are the best corners that we have ever had,” Leavitt said, referencing Jordan Johnson, Robertson Daniel and Trenton Trammell. “There have been some good corners before, but these guys are different athletes and different players. As a safety, I am grateful to have them out there. It has been awesome. I love it.”
BYU football scrimmage
P Saturday, LaVell Edwards Stadium
• Open to the public
• Gates open at 9:45 a.m., and scrimmage will begin at approximately 10:20 a.m.
• Spectators will be allowed in West stands only