Utah football fall practice position preview: linebackers

By Carter Williams, Deseret News

Published: Wed, July 30, 2014, 10:00 a.m. MDT

 BYU's Taysom Hill is tackled by Utah's Jared Norris as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University play football Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Provo.

BYU's Taysom Hill is tackled by Utah's Jared Norris as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University play football Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Provo.

(Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — As fall camp nears, the Utes have to be both excited and nervous about the situation at linebacker heading into the 2014 season.

Utah junior linebacker Jason Whittingham (6-foot-2, 240 pounds), a 2013 all-Pac-12 Honorable Mention honoree and second-leading tackler, returns for another year. Junior linebacker Jared Norris (6-2, 237) also returns as a starter from last year.

If Miami transfer Gionni Paul (5-10, 227) and senior Jacoby Hale (6-0, 230) can heal from injuries suffered in the spring, their presence will be a welcoming boost during the season. Utah’s linebacker group is thinner than other positions on the team.

Returning experience

Whittingham, the nephew of head coach Kyle Whittingham , finished last season with 81 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack in 10 games. He also forced a fumble and recovered one too. Meanwhile, Norris ended 2013 with 64 tackles in 10 games, including 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Hale played in nine games last year, compiling 37 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. However, he injured his knee during spring camp and his 2014 season could be in jeopardy.

If or when Paul is able to come back from his foot injury, he expected to jump right into the lineup and excel. Paul ended 2012 with 61 tackles at Miami, which was third most on the team that season, before transferring to Utah. He redshirted last year.

Sophomore Uaea Masina (6-0, 222) appeared in 10 games last season, picking up seven tackles, but coaches expect him to break out this season.

Utah State transfer Sharrieff Shah (6-0, 217) played on the scout team last year, but is a possibility. Sophomore Marcus Sanders-Williams (5-11, 222) switched over from the offense and could provide an impact.

Tanner Larsen (6-3, 221), Henry Nawahine (6-1, 233) and Kyle Whittingham’s son Alex Whittingham (5-10, 214) also return for Utah.

Key additions

Utah brought in a couple of recruits to linebacker spot this season. Hauati Pututau (6-3, 230), a two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, joins the Utes. Freshman Aaron Borg (6-0, 220) also joins the Utes.

Dark horse

Jason Whittingham and Norris will likely control all the talk at the linebacker spot. Therefore, Masina, who the coaching staff likes, might be the guy that needs to step up at linebacker. If he can step up, it’ll be a huge boost until Paul and Hale can return.

General outlook

The Utes have a lot of talent at linebacker, although thinned by injuries to Paul and Hale. If they are able to return, Utah might have one of the better linebacker groups in the Pac-12. Jason Whittingham has the potential to rise as one of the top Pac-12 linebackers.

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1. RBN
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 30, 2014

Hale won't be returning from an ACL surgery. Brian Blechen should also be mentioned as a possibility. He could switch from safety, or play LB in passing situations. The Utes need to avoid injury in the LB position group.

2. Duckhunter
Highland, UT,
July 30, 2014

If there was ever a homer article written this one is it. utah has no history of having good linebackers, no track record of developing good linebackers, no highly rated recruits at the position, and a bunch of injuries to the couple of them that might be ok and those two guys are vastly undersized even if they do wind up healthy.

yet the article tries to claim that utah has "a lot of talent" at LB and that it should be "one of the better groups" in the pac12. lol

3. RBN
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 30, 2014


Frankly, the evaluations by position groups for the three big Utah schools look like homer articles written by sports information department people. Sort of like the prep preseason reviews.

4. FatMan86
West Jordan, UT,
July 30, 2014


Give the DN credit for trying to achieve some balance relative to their supply of BYU homer articles.

5. Brave Sir Robin
San Diego, CA,
July 30, 2014


"If there was ever a homer article written this one is it"

Apparently you're not reading the weekly "BYU would be a great fit for the Big 12" articles.