In addition to having several young, promising linebackers in the fold, Utah is also fortunate to have proven veterans to lead them.

Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell are proven veterans and have the starting spots locked down. But linebackers coach Colton Swan is busy trying to prepare the youngsters and bring them up to speed. 

Swan is also grateful to have Lloyd and Sewell to help teach inexperienced players like freshmen Mason Tufaga, Ethan Calvert and Trey Reynolds

Lloyd, a preseason All-America selection, provides the younger players an example to follow. 

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“We lean on him a ton. It’s the whole team. He’s a great leader. He pulls people along. He’s compelling. He’s extremely committed,” Swan said. “But it’s not just all about him and him being great. He’s trying to make this team great. He’s trying to make the linebackers great.”

When Lloyd was a young player, he benefited from the example of players like Cody Barton and Francis Bernard.

What’s impressed Lloyd about the effort of the young linebackers during fall camp?

“Their willingness to work. I think all of them want to get better. Not necessarily knowing what it takes to be the best they can be but they’re getting there because they’re so young and it takes a while to develop that relentless tenacity,” he said. “Their willingness to be the best version of themselves and to come in no matter what they’re going through, they put on the work hat and come in and get better. I love that about them and that’s all I can really ask.”

Utah assistant coach Colton Swan coaches during a practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 5, 2019. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Swan likes the progress of the young linebackers and he’s grateful to have Lloyd and Sewell in the group. 

“We’ve got a lot of depth. We’ve got some older guys and younger guys and it provides a lot of depth,” Swan said. “It gives the younger guys a chance to see how I like it done. They can witness it firsthand from an All-Pac-12 guy. It’s good for them to see (Lloyd’s) leadership.

“He’s valuable in the fact that you’ve got experienced eyes, a guy that has coaching-type of eyes. He sees things and can help,” Swan added. “I’m a true believer in the best way of learning is actually teaching. He’s a great teacher. He outworks everybody and he outworks himself. He knows what his expectations are and he exceeds those every day.”

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Though overshadowed by Lloyd, Sewell turned in a strong performance last year after switching from safety to linebacker in 2020. 

“He’s done a great job. Last year in the five games that we played he did a great job of taking a hold of it and understanding it,” Swan said of Sewell. “As a linebacker, we’re hybrids. We have multiple things that we’ve got to do. He filled that role immensely. He’s extremely savvy. He’s one of the most savvy players I’ve ever been around.”

“He makes incredible plays. For those who watch the film know that,” Lloyd said of Sewell. “He doesn’t get the recognition maybe because he was a little bit lower rated (coming into the program). And I was, too. Now he’s starting to get more recognition.”

Less heralded than his linebacking mate Devin Lloyd, Nephi Sewell has made great strides since moving from safety to linebacker. He is expected to be a leader for the Utes’ defense. | University of Utah Athletics

In addition to adding the three freshman, the Utes signed Josh Calvert, a transfer from Washington, during the offseason. He’s the older brother of Ethan Calvert. 

“Bringing a transfer in that comes from a good program is really, really nice. It’s nice to have a guy like that,” Swan said. “We don’t necessarily run the same defense but he can pick up on things. The terminology, he tweaks it a little bit and applies it to things that he’s done. Josh is a very physical kid. I love the way he’s progressing.”

Swan has also liked what he’s seen from Reynolds. 

“Trey is a gritty, tough football player. I love Trey Reynolds. People could overlook him but he’s fantastic,” he said. “He works his butt off. He’s got a work ethic like Devin Lloyd. He will wear that projector out in the film room and he wants to be great. He’s been here for seven months now and he’s really made a name for himself.”

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The young players will continue to learn and they’ll contribute by playing special teams. 

“There’s development. They need to look at what an All-Pac-12 player looks like,” Swan said. “Are we at this point? No. Let’s get there. There are plenty of roles to be played. It’s my job to make sure that if one man goes down, the next man is ready.”

Swan said it’s his job to ensure that he has “enough guys that are ready” to play. 

“It’s a game of contact and injuries happen. It’s the next-man-up mentality,” he said. “When somebody goes down, the next man grabs a rifle and he freakin’ takes that front line. It’s my job as a position coach to make sure I’ve got guys ready. When it comes time on Sept. 2 (in the season opener against Weber State), we’ll be there.”