The Denver Broncos have needed a Middle Linebacker (MIKE) since 2007, when Al Wilson was forced into early retirement due to a neck injury and there has been a void in the Denver Defense since. It isn’t easy to replace such an important piece and I liken it to what the Baltimore Ravens will go through as they try to find someone to take up Ray Lewis’ mantle.
That leads us to the 2013 College Free Agency period. The Broncos brought in a couple of candidates to compete with Joe Mays, Nate Irving and Steven Johnson for the middle Linebacker job. Today we look at Uona Kaveinga.
Uona Kaveinga (woah-nah kah-vein-ga) is a 5’-11”, 243 lb., 23-year old Linebacker prospect who spent the last two years playing for the BYU Cougars after a 2 year term with the USC Trojans. NFL Draft Scout rated him as the 33rd out of 132 Inside Linebacker prospects across the nation and 795th overall. Kaveinga was not expected to go in the Draft. Kaveinga did not receive an invitation to the Combine, but his Pro Day measurables are here:
40 Yard Time – 4.65
20 Yard Split – 2.6610 Yard Split – 1.63
Bench Press – 26
Vertical Jump – 33.5”
Broad Jump – 116”
2,0 Yard Shuttle – 4.40
3-Cone Drill – 7.32
Arm Length – 31-3/8″
Hand Length – 9-3/4″
As a high school All-American from California, Kaveinga decided to play for the highly-successful Southern Cal program under Pete Carroll rather than head to Provo to suit up for the Cougars. As a Freshman (2008), he appeared in 8 games as a reserve Linebacker and Special Teamer, with 3 Tackles and 1 TFL. In 2009, Uona had the same status, reserve and Special Teamer. He made 2 Tackles. At the point of stagnation, Kaveinga decided to transfer to BYU, citing a better “social life and spiritual life,” but the promise of more playing time certainly helped the decision.
He sat out as a Redshirt in 2010 and then things started turning around.
Kaveinga started all 13 games at Middle Linebacker for the Cougars in 2011, totaling 57 Tackles, 4.5 Tackles For Loss, 2 Quarterback Hurries, 1 Pass Breakup and 4 Forced Fumbles. He had a season-high 8 Tackles, 1 TFL and one Quarterback hurry vs. Utah State.
His Senior Year (2012), saw him get named to the Butkus Award Watch List. Uona earned his 2nd Letter, starting all 13 games at Middle Linebacker once again. He finished the season with 49 Tackles, 4.5 TFL’s, a half a Sack, one Interception, 1 Fumble Recovery and two Pass Breakups. He had a season-best eight Tackles vs. San Diego St. in the Poinsettia Bowl.
STRENGTHS: A physical leader in the middle of the defense who possesses a compact build with thick arms, Uona finds the ball regularly and feels his way through traffic to stack Running Backs. He punishes ballcarriers with a pop in the hole or in zone coverage and takes out lead blockers like a missile when needed so others can clean up. He has enough foot speed to drop in the middle and works to stay with Tight Ends down the seam. He is able to knock smaller receivers off crossing routes over the middle.
WEAKNESSES: Shorter than the prototypical MLB prospect scouts prefer, Kaveinga’s length becomes an issue when fighting off blockers. A downhill defender who can struggle to change directions quickly, Uina hustles to the ball, but won’t have a huge range due to his average initial acceleration. Goes for the big shoulder hit instead of wrapping at times, will lunge and be eluded by quicker ballcarriers.
NFL COMPARISON: Gary Brackett
BOTTOM LINE: His average size might keep him from being an elite prospect, but his production and toughness should allow him to make a roster as an inside hammer in a 3-4 system.
How he fits in Denver:
Although a bit small for the position, Kaveinga appears to have the instincts and attitude for the position. Uona also has a knack for separating the ball from the ball carrier, something every team can use. He reminds me of Saints undersized and underrated Linebacker Sam Mills, who proved that being small doesn’t mean you have a small heart. With the amount of competition that will be in Training Camp, Uona will need to make an impact on Special Teams to keep his foot in the door at Dove Valley.
I really like how Denver is flooding this position with competition. Good Linebacker depth means good Special Teams. And that is always a plus.
– Kaptain Kirk