When it comes to sorting out the middle linebacker situation, it’s as difficult as walking through a Porsche dealership and trying to pick out your favorite car. It’s a great problem to have, but a problem nevertheless when it comes time to decide.
“Well, it’s good,” Uani Unga said with a smile. “We have a lot of depth at the linebacker position, and the competition is really strong at both the Mike and the Buck position. When we first started fall camp, I was kind of deep in the depth chart. As fall camp went on I’ve been slowly moving up. Just last week I was running with the threes and now this week I’m running with the twos.”
Running with the second team last week were Zac Stout and Manoa Pikula. This week that has changed as players battle and coaches continue to sort out where players stand.
“Zac Stout plays Mike backer and I was behind him, but this week the coaches put me in front of him,” said Unga. “I don’t know, I mean, that’s just for right now. You never know. Someone could have a good practice while others might have a bad practice. I think that’s just how the coaches are going.”
The only thing that seems relatively determined is who will be starting at inside linebacker. Brandon Ogletree is at Buck linebacker, and Uona Kaveinga is at Mike linebacker.
“Right now for this week it’s me at the Mike position and Tyler Beck at the Buck,” said Unga. “That’s kind of how it is right now and we’ll see if it stays that way. People who are making plays are going to be there to play, so the trick now is to continue making plays because any one of us at any moment can move up or down. It’s a tricky thing right now.
“Right now Austin Jorgensen and Zac Stout are rotating in with the threes. I mean, every day you have to show up and you can’t sleep on it because any one of us can be moved up or down. That’s how competitive it is right now.”
So the trick now is to play harder than anyone else while maintaining a high level of consistency. In a moment’s notice the situation can easily change.
“Yeah, now it’s about being consistent,” said Unga. “If I can’t keep it up, Coach will get the picture that I’m not a two-deep candidate. You have to be consistent and continue to make plays and that’s what the coaches are looking at right now.”
Because of the level of talent on the inside, Coach Tidwell reportedly feels comfortable playing anyone.
“Coach Tidwell was telling us that he could throw in anyone at any time and he would feel really good about the middle linebacker situation,” said Unga. “He said he has a great depth chart and that the level of talent is strong. It’s just right now it’s hard for him to put the depth chart thing away because it’s been hard to figure it out. Everyone is really good.”
With Coach Poppinga having nine guys that he feels comfortable with at any time, and now Tidwell having eight such guys in the middle, is this one of the best-developed, deepest linebacker corps in the nation?
“I don’t know,” Unga said with a laugh. “With our depth and the level of talent that’s been developed, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Like I said, everyone is really good and well coached. Coach Tidwell said that if anybody – say, two-deep – goes down or if anybody gets hurt, he’s comfortable with playing the third team and the fourth.”
And that’s saying something given the fact that Unga transferred from Oregon State and played with and against then-Pac-10 talent.
“Yeah, it’s pretty unique,” said Unga. “Like I said, it’s really up to us to determine where we play on the depth chart. We’ve got so much talent that Coach Tidwell is trying to sort it all out, and that will be determined by the smallest of mistakes.”
So that’s the picture of the inside linebacker situation for this week. However, based on their performances, that picture could change the following week as Coach Tidwell continues to sort out the lot.