Putting any real stock in a spring practice depth chart is always a dicey proposition. At a minimum, though, that document can offer at least a small glimpse into what a coaching staff is thinking as one season has ended, and training camp for next season looms.
For example, take Utah’s spring depth chart and scroll down to the linebackers. In terms of experience, redshirt junior Devin Lloyd started all 14 games at rover last fall on his to an All-Pac-12 honorable-mention selection. Beyond Lloyd, there is little, if any real experience to speak of at the position.
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Mata’afa saw action in seven games last season, but has never started, while Sophomore Hayden Fury played in five games last season, all on special teams.
Mata’afa and Fury opened spring practice last week penciled as starters at rover and stud, respectively.
“It's just part of coaching, you've got to take guys and you’ve got to make them better players,” Utah linebackers coach Colton Swan told The Salt Lake Tribune last week. “That's what we get hired to do. We're here to take young men, 18 through 21-year-old type guys, and take them from point A to point B and to get them better. That's our job and we’re not concerned. it's just what we have to do. It's no different than going out and being an electrician. You have a job to do, you have to get it done.”
LINEBACKER DEPTH CHART
Andrew Mata’afa, 6-3, 225, So.
Nephi Sewell, 6-0, 210, Jr.
Devin Lloyd, 6-3, 235, So.
Moroni Anae, 6-1, 243, Jr.
Hayden Fury, 6-2, 214, So.
Samuelu Elisaia, 6-0, 246, Sr.
Again, take spring depth with a grain of salt, especially starters, because a closer look at the linebacker depth will show Swan’s newest edition to the unit, who isn’t exactly new.
Nephi Sewell became eligible late in the regular season last fall. He played in three games at free safety, including against Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Sewell has since been shifted to rover where, given an offseason to adjust, he could start the Sept. 3 opener vs. BYU.
Sewell played in 23 games, including 19 starts, at Nevada between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, so he is experienced, just not at linebacker.
“He's not extremely young to us, but he's got two years to play and he's been doing a great job,” Swan said. “He shows a lot of natural instincts. He reads flows very well and can react to the football. He does a really good job.”
As everyone tries to get on board with a vastly different Utes defense from the one that dominated opponents last season, much of this maturation process may depend on how well Lloyd takes ownership of the group.
That wasn’t so necessary last season with All-Pac-12 first team linebacker Francis Bernard in the room, plus the presence of so many veteran guys across the defense. Many of those guys are gone now, so more of the onus will fall on Lloyd.
“He’s got the ears of all the players, they know he’s been there, done that,” Swan said. “He’s been in the trenches, he’s grinding it out. He obviously has the work ethic and he’s proven to guys that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to be great. He puts forth a lot of time into his game, he’s a natural leader and he wants to help make guys great. That’s really the main thing about him.”