SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As good as the Utes defense should be this season, the one position in question has to be linebacker.
After losing two of the best linebackers the Utes have had in recent years in Cody Barton and Chase Hansen to graduation, it’s now up to Francis Bernard and Devin Lloyd to pick up where Barton and Hansen left off.
“We’re excited,” said Bernard. “We like to have our backs against the wall. We like to have people doubt us. But I’m excited for this year. I’m excited it’s me and Devin. We’re going to be running the show and we’re going to be showing the world what we can do.”
“We’re getting a little bit less hype, but it’s all because of the unknowns,” added Lloyd. “That’s completely fine. At the end of the day, we have to step up, and we have to prove, just like everybody on the defense has to prove their hype.”
Last season was a transition year for Bernard, who transferred from BYU just before the start of the year. He said it took him a little while to learn the Utes defensive scheme.
“It was a roller coaster,” Bernard said. “Just to get here was a roller coaster, and then when I got here, I had to learn a whole new defense. So I was just struggling with that. It was humbling and I was able to learn from it, but I was able to get my feet wet a little bit late in the season. But I love the pressure, so I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”
Lloyd, who played primarily on special teams last season, was thrust into a starting role after Penn State transfer Manny Bowen quit the team the day before training camp opened. But Lloyd has skills to step right in.
“Whenever my name was called, I was going to be ready,” Lloyd said. “Whenever that was, I just knew that I had to get better everyday. So, when my time is called, I’ll be ready.”
The Utes coaching staff has full confidence that the linebackers will play a vital role in the team’s success this year, especially playing behind one of the best defensive lines in the nation.
“Francis Bernard is an absolute warrior,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. He played a lot of snaps for us last year, as did Devin. They’re ready to go. They’re students of the game, they are football fanatics, and they will be ready to go. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
For Bernard, to open his senior season at his old stomping grounds in Provo will be extra special.
“I’m a little more excited going down to LaVell [Edwards Stadium] one more time,” he said. “We’re going to finish it the right way, going nine in a row. So, it’s going to be fun.”