By SCOTT BELL
Besides the obvious speed and size differences, BYU’s linebacking corps looks strikingly similar to its counterpart on the defensive line. Veterans return at the starting positions while quality young back-ups are in place to provide rest and push for playing time.
Senior Brad Martin and junior Rob Morris return to anchor BYU’s defense behind the line, and senior Derik Stevenson steps in to replace the graduated Spencer Reid.
“If they stay healthy, they’ll be a good bunch of linebackers, as good as I’ve ever had,” defensive coordinator Ken Schmidt said. “If they do stay healthy, they’ll be solid.”
Hmmm, where have we heard this before?
Coach LaVell Edwards has been saying similar things about the defensive line. If both groups are as good as advertised, the Cougars should be tough on the run and able to get pressure on the quarterback.
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Martin will be starting for his fourth straight year. He had a career year as a sophomore in 1996, tallying 77 tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for loss and seven fumble recoveries. Last year wasn’t quite as spectacular as Martin finished with 78 tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss and one recovery.
“They voted me in as a captain last year, and I don’t know if I did a good job,” Martin said. “Now I’m a senior, but it can’t be just one stepping up and saying, ‘I’m a leader.’ All the seniors have to step up and do things right. I’m know I’m going to be one to step up and make sure we do.”
Morris, 6-feet 2-inches, 250 pounds, returns at middle linebacker after a standout season last year. He came to BYU as a running back but converted to linebacker as a freshman. In his first year as a starter, he led the team with 110 tackles and 210.5 defensive points.
“Rob’s a big, physical guy who runs a 4.6 (40),” Schmidt said. “He’s doing a great job for us.”
Stevenson, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, will be starting for the first time as a senior, but he’s not exactly inexperienced. Stevenson has been a special teams beast for the last two years and managed 24 tackles in a back-up role a year ago.
Coaches are extremely confident about reserve Justin Ena, a 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound redshirt freshman. He’ll push Stevenson for playing time on the strong side and can also back up Morris in the middle. Another veteran of the special teams, Jeff Ellis, will also back-up in the middle. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior has 36 tackles in two years as a reserve. Sophomore Josh Lowe, 6-feet 3-inches, 230 pounds, will back up Martin on the weak side. He held the same role all last season as a redshirt freshman.