Utah's primary defensive scheme requires only two linebackers. That's just one of the reasons the linebacking group is among the Utes' strongest position areas in 2018.
Chase Hansen’s move from safety to rover and Cody Barton’s improvement at the other linebacker spot give the Utes a strong foundation. Hansen brings good credentials as a playmaker and tackler and Barton was among the stars of Utah’s offseason program, as identified by senior center Lo Falemaka.
This is the first installment of an occasional series in August about Utah’s position groups. Today: the linebackers.
Donavan Thompson and redshirt freshman Devin Lloyd will enter preseason practice Wednesday as the backup linebackers on the two-deep roster. Junior college transfer Bryant Pirtle is on the 110-player camp roster; he’s expected to report next week after finishing academic requirements.
Coach Kyle Whittingham has said he's unable to comment about the status of BYU transfer Francis Bernard, who's also completing academic work. He's not on the roster this week, although he's expected to join the program at some point. Another question is whether Bernard will have a scholarship. Utah's camp roster includes the full allotment of 85 scholarship players, according to a school news release.
Hansen led the Utes with 90 tackles as a safety in 2016, before missing a big chunk of the 2017 season with injuries. Whittingham has called him “one of the best defenders in the Pac-12.”
Barton has been a steady, if unspectacular player for three years. He made a big impression on Falemaka this summer.
“Definitely, keep your eyes on Cody Barton,” Falemaka said last week during the Pac-12 Football Media Day. “He’s killing every single workout. He’s a linebacker, beating receivers in drills. He’s a freak athlete, and he’s going to be a great player.”
Hansen mentioned Lloyd, his backup, as a young player who also made a good showing during the summer.
Thompson showed some good signs last season, when he appeared in all 13 games (five starts) and made 38 tackles.