The Brigham Young Cougars 2011 linebacking corps could turn out to be one of BYU’s finest. At the linebacker position, BYU returns nine players who played significant minutes last year (Brandon Ogletree, Austen Jorgensen, Jadon Wagner, Jordan Pendleton, Kyle Van Noy, Jameson Frazier, Zac Stout, Connell Hess, and Aveni Leung-Wai). These nine players played in 90 games, combined for 280 tackles, 32.5 tackles-for-loss (TFL), 8.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 8 quarterback hurries, 2 fumble recoveries (1 touchdown), and 4 forced fumbles. Head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall has already said that USC transfer Uona Kaveinga will start at middle linebacker after sitting out last year, per NCAA rules. With a year’s experience to go with the great talent and depth at this position, the expectations are high. Thinking about how good the linebackers might be in 2011 conjures up memories of great BYU linebackers of the past.
Five years ago, the BYU linebackers led a staunch defense. Cameron Jensen was the ring leader. He ended the year the team's leading tackler (107) and was named first-team All-MWC. He played both in the opponents’ backfield, registering 9.5 TFL and 4 sacks, and back in pass coverage, intercepting three passes and breaking up three others.
Bryan Kehl was also a beast that opposing offenses had to deal with. He finished the year honorable mention All-MWC. His great effort and athleticism allowed him to make 70 tackles and play all over the field. He was an effective pass rusher making 3 sacks to go along with 8 TFL. He could also run step for step with receivers out of the backfield breaking up six passes.
David Nixon was fresh off his mission to Ecuador, and he picked up where he left off as a freshman. Nixon was named academic All-MWC for his 62 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 5 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles. His forced fumble against TCU has become a staple for highlight videos.
Aaron Wagner is the forgotten man of the group, but he did have the second most tackles that year with 75.
Fifteen years ago, Shay Muirbrook terrorized the competition from the middle linebacker spot. He was easily first team All-WAC, and the conference defensive player of the year. Muribrook played all over the field. He made 97 tackles, 9 sacks, 11.5 quarterback hurries, 8 TFL, recovered 2 fumbles and forced 2.5 more. He was just as lethal against the pass as he was the run. He intercepted 3 passes and deflected 6 more. Muirbrook’s best game, however, is not reflected in these stats. In the Cotton Bowl, he made 12 tackles, and set a Cotton Bowl and BYU single-game record for most sacks (6). His first sack of the day was a safety, giving BYU a 2-0 lead.
Brad Martin was Muirbrook’s “partner in crime.” He earned second team All-WAC honors as a sophomore. Martin was most impressive at jumping on the ball when it was loose. When others were treating the pigskin like a hot potato, Martin cradled it like a baby. He recovered 7 fumbled in 1996 to go with his 77 tackles, 9 TFL, 6 sacks, and 4 quarterback hurries. He wasn’t too shabby in pass coverage either. Martin intercepted one pass and knocked away three others.
Dennis Simmons didn’t put up big numbers, but he was a solid contributor. He played the role that BYU needed that year, and he was an integral part of the 1996 defense that had no weak links.
Twenty years ago, the linebackers on the BYU roster might be the best of this bunch. Against the toughest competition that BYU has ever faced, these linebackers put up eye popping numbers.
Rocky Biegel was the senior leader of the group, and he didn’t disappoint. He recorded an amazing 192 tackles on his way to first team All-WAC honors. He spent most his time in the other teams’ backfield. He had 14 quarterback hurries, 5.5 sacks, and one TFL. He also recovered three fumbles.
Shad Hansen was named second team All-WAC, but he one upped Biegel in tackles with 193 (still a BYU single-season record). When Biegel didn’t penetrate the line of scrimmage, Hansen did. The result was 13 quarterback hurries, 5 sacks, and 4 TFL. He forced three fumbles as well.
Scott Giles didn’t receive any post-season honors for his play, despite racking up over 100 tackles himself (116). As impressive as Biegel and Hansen were at getting to the quarterback, Giles was even better. He was credited with 16 quarterback hurries, 8 sacks, and 2 TFL. He made his contributions to turnovers by recovering one fumble and forcing two others.
Jared Leavitt might not have had as impressive numbers, but he was no chump. Leavitt made a respectable 62 tackles during the season. He sacked the quarterback 5 times and hurried him 6 other times. He kept with the magic number 3 and recovered three fumbles.
If the 2011 starting linebackers play to the level of any of these groups, this could be one special season for the Cougars.
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