Leuta-Douyere sees benefits of new position

It was his turn to follow in the shoes of All-American outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, but instead he was moved to the middle of the defense to play middle linebacker. As practice has progressed, Jherremya Leuta-Douyere has seen how the move to the middle is actually a move that will allow him to thrive much more within the defense.

When you're the next in line to fill the shoes of an All-American like Kyle Van Noy, you know the spotlight will be shined heavily on you. It's a chance to prove that you are worthy of the position, so being moved to a different spot could potentially cause some ire. However, that is not the case with Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, who is enjoying the move to Buck linebacker.

"Buck has been fun," said Leuta-Douyere. "Everything is coming at you really fast as opposed to a specific side of the ball. You know, at Buck you have to make sure everyone's fits are right and replace those that aren't. It's definitely been fun."

His former position coach – outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga – gave some insight into what new responsibilities Leuta-Douyere will now be given.

"Mostly as a Buck linebacker you're playing a two-seam area," said Coach Poppinga. "As the Sam or Will you're mainly a flat defender. As the Buck you will play flat, but you will also play more of the seam. You're going to have a flat defender out and you don't have to chase out so you can stay more in the seam, curl area. So it's just him getting used to that and he's super smart. He picks up things super fast. I think it's going to be a great fit for him. It's a position that's more natural for him, so we're looking forward for him progressing."

As a new Buck linebacker, Leuta-Douyere has to shed some bad habits that were not considered as such while he was a pass-rushing outside linebacker. He better learn quickly, because he now has to face tenacious guards looking to get into the second tier of the defense.

"I think it's just keeping my eyes on my keys," said Leuta-Douyere. "At times at middle backer you're supposed to read your guard, but I have a tendency of looking in the backfield. You know, I'm taking on guards now whereas on the outside you're mainly taking on receivers, so it's bigger dudes, and you have to react quick and have fast hands to get off blocks. But it's fun and you're right there as opposed to the outside where you have to run far. I like middle. I think it fits my mold too."

"It's going to be more of the point of contact with the center and combo blocks with the guard," said Coach Poppinga. "That's mostly what he's going to deal with is centers and guards, but he has great built-in leverage and isn't the tallest guy, which can be good for an inside backer to be able to get up under the pads of linemen. When I coached him he was always really good at the point of contact and playing with his hands, and that will translate for him at inside linebacker."

Leuta-Douyere learned really quickly which Cougar offensive linemen like to get after it downfield and bring the physical play to the middle.

"It's hard to tell because they're coming at different angles trying to blindside you. I learned that the first day really quick," said Leuta-Douyere with a chuckle. "There are two guys that I can name right now, Tuni [Kanuch] and Solo [Kafu]. They're just body-eaters and they'll just swallow you up if you're not paying attention."

Leuta-Douyere's move to the middle makes sense. At 6 feet, 236 pounds, he's not a long, rangy player like Kyle Van Noy is, although he does have the good speed and quickness of an outside linebacker to challenge the edge.

While most might be upset by being moved from a high-profile position played by a high-profile player the prior year, Leuta-Douyere was actually waiting for the move to happen.

"Yes sir, I was kind of waiting," said Leuta-Douyere. "I knew it was a better fit for me, but not just for me but for the team. Bronson [Kaufusi] fits the outside perfectly, especially trying to replace a Kyle Van Noy. You know, he fits those shoes. With me personally, I'm not as tall, so my game is more physicality and that's what they look for at middle backer, but at the same time you have to make plays. With me playing outside backer and being able to move in space and cover, I think it just makes it a lot more special moving to the inside."

"It's going to take some time but I feel like we've now got him playing the spot that will fit him the best," Coach Poppinga said.

Meanwhile, Leuta-Douyere thinks that moving Kaufusi to his old spot was a brilliant move. He described Kaufusi as a freak-of-nature athlete that can wreak havoc.

"It's funny how he's able to gain weight quick and even drop weight quick. I don't know how, but I think it's been a month and he's already dropped like 30 pounds already. He brings that tenacious pass rush and he has speed for his size. His counter move is coming back inside, and, you know, it's fun watching him swim over dudes because he's a mismatch every time you bring him on a rush. I'm excited to see him on coverage too."

As for himself, Leuta-Douyere expects to bring fast and physical play to the Buck linebacker position.

"I think me being older … I've grown more mature, so I've studied the defense harder," said Leuta-Douyere. "When you're younger you just know your position, but when you've been here a while you learn what everyone else is doing. The knowledge that I have of the defense is definitely a plus. I'm able to react faster because I know what everyone else is doing as opposed to new dudes coming in trying to just learn their spot and thinking too much. So, I think knowing the defense, the more I get older, I'm able to react a lot quicker and get to the play a lot faster.

"Definitely the more you know the faster and better you will play, especially knowing the Will [linebacker] spot, which is right in front of me, to know where my fits are."

With his move to middle linebacker, he's joining forces with Mike linebacker Manoa Pikula, whom Coach Tidwell feels could be a special player if he continues on the trajectory he's currently on. Pikula and Leuta-Douyere often joke about how they want to play like two of their favorite NFL middle linebackers.

"We joke around and we want to be like Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman on the 49ers, but we're a long ways from there and we're still trying to learn," Leuta-Douyere said. "But we have similar body types. [Manoa] is a real physical, mean dude. I'm more the laid-back type, but once I step onto the field it's a whole new game, so us two together, we complement each other. It's funny how we feed off each other's energy and I'm excited to play with him."

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