BYU officially announced Thursday morning that starting outside linebacker Francis Bernard will redshirt the 2017 season for personal reasons. Bernard is a junior, and will be a redshirt junior in 2018.
The loss is undoubtedly a big blow for BYU’s defense. With Bernard, Butch Pau’u, and Fred Warner all returning, BYU was poised to have one of its best linebacking units in school history. Bernard was just starting to learn the linebacking position after playing running back as a freshman, and was poised to make a big jump this year.
So, who will fill in for Bernard? Junior Adam Pulsipher has been getting many of Bernard’s starting reps recently. At 6’1”, 220 lbs, Pulsipher knows the playbook and Tuiaki’s system; he played in 12 games this past season, starting in two.
One intriguing option is Senior Safety Matt Hadley. Yesterday, on ESPN960 Radio, host Ben Criddle mentioned that Hadley could move from his safety spot over to linebacker. Hadley briefly tried his hand at running back during spring, but moved over to safety in time for fall camp and was poised to start there.
Hadley would be undersized for a linebacker, but he knows the playbook well. While lacking the physicality and much of the playmaking ability of Bernard, Hadley would provide more speed and coverage ability than other options. His coverage ability could allow Fred Warner to play less as a nickelback and give him more freedom to rush the passer.
Best of luck to Francis as he works through whatever personal reasons he may be going through. In the meantime, next man up.