SALT LAKE CITY — Penn State transfer Manny Bowen never played for the University of Utah. He chose to retire before last season began, opening up a starting linebacker job as camp began. 

It didn’t take long for Devin Lloyd to seize the opportunity and play alongside senior Francis Bernard on the first unit. The sophomore from Chula Vista, California, stepped up after seeing limited action as a redshirt freshman.

Lloyd started all 14 games and wound up leading Utah with 91 tackles. He was second in both tackles for loss (11) and sacks (6.5). In the Utes’ win over Oregon State, Lloyd returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown. 

Utah sophomore Devin Lloyd has been a pleasant surprise at linebacker

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham refers to Lloyd as the returning stalwart at linebacker. He also acknowledges that much like last season when the eventual honorable mention all-conference selection emerged from the pack, there’s another opportunity for someone to take the other starting role in a wide-open race.

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The candidates include former Stanford redshirt Sione Lund. Whittingham said the junior gave the Utes some good snaps last season as a reserve.

Another intriguing player to watch is junior Nephi Sewell. The Nevada transfer became eligible late last season and appeared in three games. Although primarily used at safety because of injuries Utah suffered, Sewell is likely going to stay put this season.

“He’s a linebacker and that’s where we’re going to utilize him,” Whittingham said.

Utah’s depth at linebacker has increased with the addition of junior college transfer Jeremy Mercier (Gila River JC, Arizona) and the signing of newcomers Graham Faloona (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas) and Sione Fotu (Bingham HS). Whittingham said they are “very excited about the freshmen.” He added that it’s also time for sophomore Andrew Mata’afa, who played in seven games last season, to show what he can do.