July 24, 2006

2006 preview: Linebackers

Linebacker Outlook

2005 In Review

Utah's linebackers are dependent on the play of the defensive line and always will be. As the line struggled early in the season, so did the play of the linebackers. The game that stands out in the minds of most fans is the TCU game, where it seemed as though Utah's front seven couldn't figure out how to stop the Frog's option attack - even though Tye Gunn was not a running threat at quarterback - or keep a speedy freshman running back from cleanly getting outside the tackles and into the secondary.

Utah received another outstanding performance in 2005 from Spencer Toone. Toone finished the season as the leading tackler for both Utah and the Mountain West Conference, tallying 113 tackles, including 5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, jumping from Honorable Mention All-MWC in 2004 to 1st Team All-MWC in 2005. Toone finished his career at Utah with 293 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks and became a draft pick of the Tennessee Titans.

The other two linebacker positions were not quite so settled. Neither player who started alongside Toone in the season opener against Arizona lined up with Toone against Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl. One was suspended; the other lost his job by the second game of the season. Utah opened the season with Grady Marshall and Malakai Mokofisi and finished with Joe Jiannoni and Kyle Brady on the field with Toone.

Aside from the unsettled nature that saw Utah use four different starting combinations, the other linebackers also provided inconsistent play early on as one was receiving his first game experience at linebacker at the Division I level (Brady) while another had not seen much more then special teams duty (Jiannoni).

Jiannoni took the starting MAC spot from Marshall in the week after the Arizona game and never looked back. He had some rough times early on as he became accustomed to the size and speed of the opposition, but developed into a solid, dependable linebacker. Brady, as the STUD linebacker, often left the field in nickel and dime packages, and didn't progress as quickly as Jiannoni. Brady was inconsistent throughout the season, but made gradual improvements in his game from week to week. Brady likely would have been the opening day starter at STUD linebacker had an injury in fall camp allowed him to practice and aid in Brady learning more of the position before being thrown into the fire.

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