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Next men up? How Utes will fill void left by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell

Freshmen Lander Barton and Justin Medlock are among those that impressed coaches during spring practices

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The White team’s Devaughn Vele is tackled by the Red team’s Lander Barton during Red and White Game in Salt Lake City.

The White team’s Devaughn Vele is tackled by the Red team’s Lander Barton during Red and White Game at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Barton, a freshman, has already made a good first impression on Utah coaches.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah has lost two of its top tacklers and leaders — linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewellto the NFL.

But the Utes have a bevy of young linebackers poised to fill that void.

“I’ve got some young, talented guys, that’s for sure. I assumed that coming into it and it’s exactly what I thought I had. The culture is good in the room,” said linebackers coach Colton Swan. “Like I told them, with as much experience as I had get up and leave the room, somebody’s got to take those seats. The competition is high. I think each and every one of them are competing for a job.”

Freshmen Lander Bartonand Justin Medlock are among those that impressed the coaches during spring practices. 

Swan said both have a good knowledge of the game. 

“They’re willing to compete. They are very savvy players. They’re picking up on scheme and all the little nuances of technique,” Swan said. “They’re learning at a very fast rate. Are they there right now? No, they’re not. But I’m really pleased with their progress.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is confident that the young linebackers will be up to speed by the time the 2022 season kicks off. 

“With a lot of these guys, it’s about fundamentals and technique. Scheme is going to be secondary to that,” he said. “Schematically, there’s going to be some things, base-wise, that they need to know. Coach Swan is as good a teacher as they come. They’re all showing a lot of promise right there. Skill set is one thing. You have to have the mindset. All these guys have the right mindset.”

Of course, the Ute defense will benefit from the addition of Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate, who missed spring drills as he recovers from shoulder surgery. 

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Florida linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (11) celebrates after making a play during game against Alabama, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. Diabate will be called on to help fill the holes left by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

Swan is looking forward to seeing Diabate on the field. 

“I’ve been very impressed thus far in what he’s shown. Right now, he’s very limited in what he can do coming off that shoulder surgery. Everything’s moving good as far as his progress in rehab,” he said. “They’re allowing him to lift now. He’s really starting to progress. His strength is impeccable. He’s a really strong kid.

“Another thing I’ve been really impressed with is, sometimes they’ll let him run in conditioning drills and he can freakin’ run like a gazelle. I’ve been really impressed with how well he can cover the field.”

Utah also has older linebackers, like Josh Calvert, Ethan Calvert, Andrew Mata’afa, Karene Reid and Hayden Furey, that provide some experience and depth at the position. 

“Furey has played multiple reps. They’re doing a good job. They understand that the voice of the room has left — Devin and Nephi,” Swan said. “Somebody’s got to speak up. Andrew is a very outspoken type of personality. He’s a great young man. He’s taken that more of a vocal role while Karene is a workhorse. They’re all competing and doing a great job.”

Coach Kyle Whittingham praised Reid’s contributions. 

“He’s experienced. He had a lot of reps last year. Not a lot, but more than anybody else,” he said. “He’s extremely smart. His linebacker instincts are exactly what you want at that position.”

The Calvert brothers are expected to make an impact next season. Josh is a transfer from Washington while Ethan was injured last season. 

“He’s doing awesome. I’ve been really impressed. He pushes himself to the limit. He is not a kid looking for excuses,” Swan said of Ethan Calvert. “He’s one of the hardest workers in the group. If it was up to him, he would take off the knee brace and go full-speed live right now. I love that about him. I expect good things moving forward this summer and in fall camp from Ethan, for sure.”

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Utah Utes linebacker Karene Reid tackles Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has been impressed with his “linebacker instincts.”

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News