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Utah Football’s Linebacker Group Centers Around Leader Devin Lloyd

Devin Lloyd #20 of the Utah Utes is congratulated by teammate Francis Bernard #13 after sacking Steven Montez of the Colorado Buffaloes during the second half of their game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah lost 9 of their 11 starters from last season but one of the two returning starters is junior linebacker Devin Lloyd.

Heading into the 2020 season, the linebackers will be relied on more than ever to be productive as well as provide the leadership with a very young unit. This linebacker group has all of the tools to accomplish just that.

The Crimson Corner is previewing each position group leading up to the 2020 college football season. We continue with the linebackers.

Returning Experience

Junior Devin Lloyd had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2019 after being inserted into the starting lineup following the departure of Penn State graduate transfer Manny Bowen. He finished his sophomore campaign with 91 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 14 games played. Lloyd was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. Expect him to be a force on Utah’s young defense while leading this team to being a physical unit.

Sophomore Andrew Mata’afa has the potential to be a very good linebacker that could make plays as soon as this season for the Utes. After using his redshirt in 2018, he played in seven games while picking up five tackles and a pass breakup.

Junior Nephi Sewell will be needed this season to be productive at linebacker. He transferred to Utah from Nevada after prepping at Desert Hills in St. George, Utah. Sewell was ineligible for most of the season but was eligible to play the final three games of the season against Colorado, Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game and the Alamo Bowl against Texas. During the off-season, Sewell made the switch from safety to linebacker.

Sophomore Hayden Furey played five games on special teams last season. The Westlake High School product was the projected starter in spring at stud linebacker.

Junior walk-on Moroni Anae could be in contention for playing time in 2020. He was projected as the backup to Devin Lloyd during spring ball. Anae is the cousin of all-time sack leader Bradlee. Moroni was a member of the scout team each of the last two seasons.

Senior walk-on Samuelu Elasia is also in contention to get some reps in 2020. The Snow College transfer is the son of Utah’s Director of Sports Performance Doug Elasia. Samuelu was on the scout team in each of the last two seasons at Utah.

Junior Sione Lund was suspended during spring ball according to head coach Kyle Whittingham. With spring football practice canceled due to COVID-19, Utah has not announced anything on the status of Lund. If he is able to play for Utah this season, I think he will be a big time contributor to the linebacker group. Lund emerged as the third linebacker for Utah, surpassing Trennan Carlson when the Utes switched out of the nickel to a 4-3 formation.

Big Shoes To Fill

Utah’s linebackers in 2019 were extremely productive with Devin Lloyd and Francis Bernard. The duo combined for 186 tackles last season and finished No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in tackles. Bernard also had 7.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions – including one pick six against BYU. His leadership was paramount especially as he helped Lloyd to become a leader this season.

Bernard signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent.

Newcomers

Utah signed three linebackers in their 2020 recruiting class, adding three-star linebacker Sione Fotu from Bingham High School. Fotu is 6’1, 225-pounds that can make plays by blasting through the line of scrimmage and deliver a big hit. He does a great job of finding the ball carrier in traffic and making the tackle. Fotu is quick on his feet when he finds the ball and explodes to the ball handler. He did not enroll at Utah during the spring semester but is expected to show up during fall camp.

Graham Faloona is a three-star prospect from Southlake, Texas. His film shows very physical hits and attempts to rip out the ball while in the middle of making the tackle. He did not enroll at Utah during the spring semester but is expected to show up during fall camp.

Jeremy Mercier is a transfer from Hohokam junior college in Mesa, Arizona. His experience will help Utah’s young linebacker group. He showed ability to break through blocks and make tackles. Mercier’s body build looks a little bigger than a typical linebacker but that could be an advantage for him at the Division I level. He also played safety in junior college which will help him in coverage when he arrives at Utah.

Starter Predictions

Obviously, Devin Lloyd will start at one of the two linebacker positions. He will likely start at mac linebacker. If Sione Lund doesn’t return by fall camp, I would expect Andrew Mata’afa to start at rover linebacker. If Utah moves to a 4-3 rather than the nickel package, I think Nephi Sewell to play at stud linebacker.

In contention for those three positions to receive playing time is Hayden Furey, Moroni Anae, Sione Fotu and Sione Lund if he gets reinstated.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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