BYU football: Losing star LB Francis Bernard for season forces Cougars to make some adjustments on defense

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Brigham Young Cougars running back Francis Bernard (36) runs away from Wagner Seahawks linebacker Stephon Font-Toomer (33) as BYU hosts Wagner, NCAA football at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday October 24, 2015.

Provo • BYU’s training camp in preparation for the 2017 college football season lacked drama, suspense, major injuries and notable position battles most of the first three weeks, but that changed drastically on Thursday.

Prior to the morning scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the school announced that star linebacker Francis Bernard — arguably one of the five best players on the team — will miss the entire 2017 season “for personal reasons.”

Bernard, who had 80 tackles and two sacks last year before missing the Poinsettia Bowl due to a suspension, will use his redshirt year and return in 2018 as a junior in eligibility.

“It sucks that he has to redshirt. Francis is my boy,” said fellow linebacker Fred Warner, a senior. “He is everybody’s boy in the meeting room. But like I said, ‘next man up.’ We got guys who have to fill the spot and make plays for us.”

Redshirt junior Adam Pulsipher has been behind Bernard on the two-deep chart at weakside linebacker, and will likely move into a starting role. Coach Kalani Sitake mentioned that sophomore Johnny Tapusoa, freshman Isaiah Kaufusi and junior Morgan Unga could see increased playing time.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU linebacker Francis Bernard is back at Spring camp practice Monday March 13 after being suspended during the Poinsettia Bowl.

Also, Sitake and Warner said that safeties Matt Hadley and Chaz Ah You, a true freshman, could play linebacker in some packages.

“I think we have a lot of guys who can play there,” Sitake said.

Still, it is a huge blow to BYU’s defense — which faces LSU, Utah and Wisconsin in September — because the linebacking corps was supposed to be the strength of the team. Warner and junior Butch Pau’u started alongside Bernard last season and will be asked to pick up some of the slack.

“There is always something that adds to the [difficulty] of the game,” Sitake said. “You have to rely on depth, and that’s what we are trying to do, is establish more depth in our program. This is just one of those moments.”

Bernard will continue to participate in all team practices, meetings and activities during the season, BYU’s release said, a sign that the reasons are not Honor Code-related.

“He will be with the team and he will be practicing with us,” Sitake said while declining to offer more specifics than what was on the release.

The coach said moving Hadley and Ah You, possibly, to linebacker shows how much confidence coaches have in their depth at safety, where Micah Hannemann and Hadley were the presumed starters. Junior Zayne Anderson was backing up Hadley at free safety and junior Tanner Jacobson is the backup strong safety but played both positions in the spring.

“Hadley can play a lot of different positions. He’s got so much athleticism. But I think he is struggling with keeping the weight off, so it just makes sense to let him eat freely and get big and play linebacker. That’s kinda like my motto, so why not let our players do it?” Sitake said, laughing.

 BYU camp developments<br>• The Cougars announced that star junior linebacker Francis Bernard will not play in 2017 and will use a redshirt year “for personal reasons.”<br>• Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said that redshirt sophomore Beau Hoge has beat out Koy Detmer Jr. for the backup quarterback position<br>• Senior Matt Hadley and freshman Chaz Ah You will move from safety to linebacker and/or nickel back to fill the hole vacated by Bernard

Backups got the bulk of the reps in the scrimmage portion of practice, but starting quarterback Tanner Mangum made a couple long passes to tight end Matt Bushman and receiver Beau Tanner and starting cornerback Troy Warner intercepted two passes.

Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer confirmed that redshirt sophomore Beau Hoge has won the battle with Koy Detmer Jr. and the other QBs to be the No. 2 QB on the depth chart and will get the second-most reps as the Cougars transition into game-prep mode for the opener on Aug. 26 against Portland State.