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BYU football: Cougars solid at linebacker with three veterans returning

Published March 15, 2017 8:40 pm

BYU football • Sitake loves play of Warner, Pau'u and Bernard.
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Provo • Asked recently which position group is standing out at BYU's spring practices, coach Kalani Sitake quickly pointed at the Cougars' three returning starting linebackers — senior Fred Warner and juniors Butch Pau'u and Francis Bernard.

"I love our 'backers," Sitake said.

Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki also heaped praise on the trio that has the chance to be one of the best linebacking corps in recent memory at BYU.



"It is great to have their leadership," said Tuiaki, who has traded places with longtime defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, now the linebackers coach. "They make big plays and they bring energy. They're also great guys, a huge part of this team. They will be our leaders this fall."

There was some concern over the winter when Bernard was held out of the Poinsettia Bowl for undisclosed disciplinary reasons that the group might be broken up, but the Herriman High product, who started his BYU career as a running back, said Monday he's back in good graces and excited about his future.

"I am just happy to be here in spring ball and excited to be back with the boys, so we are just going to get it rolling. … I am excited for what is to come and for the future."

Having made the transition to linebacker at this time last spring, Bernard had a phenomenal sophomore season. He more than proved correct Sitake's inkling that he would be a great linebacker. Bernard made 47 solo tackles, 80 overall, recorded two sacks and had three interceptions — one of which he returned 39 yards for a touchdown against UMass.

"His progression has been really good," Tuiaki said. "His body has really changed. All these kids' bodies have changed. You can tell. The team is bigger and more muscular. They run around with more power and speed."

Bernard was told to gain 10 pounds when he moved to linebacker. Now he's a few pounds over 240 and has been told to get down to 237 or 238. He's happy to do it.

"The transition was good," said Bernard, who made several big plays in Wednesday's practice. "It is definitely a lot easier this year. Last year, I was just trying to learn the position. I actually feel like a vet this year, kinda showing the other guys what to do, and teaching them."

On the outside, Warner is the star, and the rising senior with perhaps the best chance of getting drafted next year. He led the team in tackles with 86 and tied Bernard for most solo takedowns, 47.

Pau'u probably would have led the team in tackles, but he finished with 83 after missing three games with a knee injury. The junior said Wednesday he is 100 percent healthy and eager to see what the defense can do this season if everyone stays healthy.

"The dominance depends solely on the defensive line," Pau'u said. "They are confident in themselves, and when they play confidently we know that those four guys can take on six guys and we are going to be free as linebackers to make some good hits on running backs, or quarterbacks if they send us on blitzes."

The Cougars are relatively inexperienced at linebacker beyond their three veterans. However, Kaufusi said Johnny "Ku-J" Tapusoa, Morgan Unga, Adam Pulsipher and Isaiah Kaufusi are getting valuable reps this spring and should be able to contribute in the fall.

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay —

BYU's veteran linebackers

Player Year Ht/Wt 2016 statistics

Fred Warner Sr. 6-4/230 86 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three ints.

Butch Pau'u Jr. 6-0/226 83 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 int.

Francis Bernard Jr. 6-1/240 80 tackles, 2 sacks, three ints.

 

 

 

 

 

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