According to Bronco Mendenhall, the linebacking corps is the deepest position group on BYU’s roster. Three starters are returning for this upcoming season and new entrants have joined in behind them to fight for playing time. The good news is that the stars at this position are young, so this could be a strong position for Mendenhall for the next several seasons.
After playing linebacker last year, Bronson Kaufusi has rejoined the defensive line where his impact will be felt the most, but was quickly replaced by another Timpview HS standout in Colby Jorgensen. Unfortunately, Jorgensen suffered a scary injury in fall camp when he broke his neck and had a slipped disk. His physical talents were apparent, but football may not be in the cards for Jorgensen's future.
Fred Warner (Sophomore, 6-3 220) headlines the outside backers for 2015. He displayed serious speed and play-making skills on the edge when he stepped in last season by recording 24 tackles (one for a loss), and a pick-6 against Boise State. He ended the season (along with many other teammates) on the injured list and is still dealing with some lingering soreness. If he can continue to put on weight and learn how to anticipate instead of react, he can become a legitimate star and NFL prospect for the Cougars.
Harvey Langi (Junior, 6-3 240) has earned his spot as the middle linebacker, the so-called quarterback of the defense. Bronco has praised Langi for the work he has put in over spring drills and summer conditioning, and has claimed that "every group he is with, they play better." Since Jamaal Williams left the team, there has been passive speculation Langi could switch back to offense or maybe play both sides of the ball, but that does not seem likely considering how important of a role he is playing on defense this year. Expect him to be the vocal leader of the defense and to show a major leap in progress in his play-making skills. He has emerged as the true leader of this group and will need to lead these young players by word and by action.
Monoa Pikula (Senior, 6-1 235) will start at the other middle linebacker spot (Buck) and is easily the most experienced player in this group heading into the season. He is not exactly a stat monster and not exactly a Sportscenter Top 10 waiting to happen, but he is dependable and won’t ever get beat.
Austin Heder (Junior 6-3 240) should provide depth at inside linebacker this season behind Pikula and Langi. He played in 10 games last season with his biggest game coming against Cal when he recorded five tackles.
Sione Takitaki (Sophomore, 6-2 240) has shown tremendous promise as a pass rushing outside linebacker. Unfortunately he earned himself a one game suspension for petty theft so he will watch the Nebraska game from the bench. This is not the first off-the-field incident for Takitaki, but if he can stay out of trouble going forward it is hard to visualize a scenario where he does not turn into a legitimate star for this defense.
Jherramya Leuta-Douyere (Senior, 6-0 230) will add more depth at outside backer in his senior season after being switched back to the outside. He played in all 13 games last year and started four of them. Expect him to start against Nebraska in place of suspended Takitaki and then make appearances in each game as he spells Takitaki and Warner.
Sae Tautu (Junior, 6-4 246) is expected to find time rotating into the outside linebacker spot as well. Tautu earned the praise of Coach Mendenhall in the spring after recording 10 tackles in 2014.
Troy Hinds (Sophomore, 6-5 233) was expected to play a prominent role on the outside this season, but an offseason hip surgery will sideline the former four-star signee in a redshirt season.
The future is bright for this group but much will be determined in how they start the season, and how they react to adversity that will come throughout the year. With Langi taking on the mantle of the defense on his shoulders, watch for the players to react to him and play harder and put in the extra effort to make plays.