After previewing the receiving corp for the Utes at practice on Monday, I was able to take a closer look at the linebacker unit for Utah on Wednesday. Though being question mark of a defense stacked with talent, the Utes feel as though the linebackers will only add to what looks like a promising group for Utah in 2018.
Going into this new season at linebackers, the Utes will look to replace Kavika Luafatasaga and Sunia Tauteoli, two players who also led the team in tackles in 2017.
The biggest addition or change to the linebackers no doubt has been the switching of positions by Chase Hansen from safety. The former star for Lone Peak, has started 22 games for the Utes the past two seasons, 20 of them coming at the safety position, developing into one of the premier defensive players in the PAC-12.
However, when the depth chart came out prior to camp, it had Hansen at the rover linebacker position, a move in which the Utes coaching staff had thought about for a while, dating back to Hansen’s sophomore season.
“Its kind of happened naturally,” Hansen told Gunther and Ben in an interview several weeks ago, in regards to his switch to linebacker. “I’ve been expecting to move, and I feel like its where the team needs me.”
On the field, Hansen looks like the biggest man amongst giant men. At 6″3 225 pounds, the senior looks like a natural at the position, and he plans to put on even more weight before fall begins.
Hansen will be joined by players who are familiar with the position. One of those is Cody Barton. Barton, the former Brighton Bengal, played in every game in 2017. Throughout spring ball already, he is recognized as one of the most improved players from last fall.
What the senior Barton brings to the table and to the linebacking unit is speed. 2017 saw Barton total 4 sacks on the season, which was second on the team. Viewers at practice on Wednesday saw much of the same from Barton, flying off the edge and getting to quarterback Tyler Huntley several times. Barton also tallied three fumble recoveries in 2017, sharing the lead in the PAC-12.
Coming in to support both Hansen and Barton will be Donavan Thompson. Already with starting experience, Thompson will challenge Barton for the Mack linebacker position. Thompson totaled 38 tackles in 2017, and also 3 pass breakups, adding a presence of pass coverage.
The Florida native has proven he can rock people as well, bringing the thunder at the Mack position. Though Barton will most likely beat him out for the starting position, Thompson will no doubt make an impact come time for the regular season.
What makes the linebacker position for the Utes special in 2018 is their depth, something they haven’t experienced at the position in quite some time. Chris Hart, Devin Lloyd and Sione Heimuli will add size and speed to the unit.
Along with the depth, the move of Hansen to linebacker will also be able to help the Utes in different coverage packages. With his knowledge of the safety position, don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley has Hansen drop back into coverage, and also be creative with blitzes.