Connor O’Brien, Benning Potoa’e among top contenders to be UW’s starting outside linebackers

If they play well in fall camp, there is a good chance they will be the starting outside linebackers in UW’s season opener at Rutgers on Sept. 1.

Connor O’Brien is a fifth-year senior and knows the opportunity is there to entrench himself as Washington’s starting Buck linebacker.

Redshirt sophomore Benning Potoa’e, having switched from Buck to strong-side (SAM) linebacker this offseason, is also looking to seize upon an opportunity.

And, if they play well in fall camp, there is a good chance they will be the starting outside linebackers in UW’s season opener at Rutgers on Sept. 1.

Not that either player is looking that far ahead.

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“I’m excited,” said O’Brien, from Trabuco Canyon, Calif. “I’m just working hard just like the next guy. There’s a lot of competition. We’ve got a lot of good outside linebackers. I’m hoping to fill the role that’s meant to be.”

Based on his experience, O’Brien, 6 feet 3 and 224 pounds, would seem to have an edge at the battle at Buck, a hybrid linebacker and defensive end in UW’s system. Last season, O’Brien started three games after Joe Mathis, who was leading the team in sacks, was lost for the season with injury.

O’Brien then suffered a knee injury against Washington State, and missed the Pac-12 championship, the Peach Bowl and all of spring ball. He finished last season with 35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and said he is now fully healthy.

“It was definitely good to get the experience,” he said. “It built a lot of confidence for sure, just to get the feel of the pace and tempo of college football. I’m glad I got that opportunity; glad the coaches gave me that opportunity.”

O’Brien’s biggest competition will come from junior Tevis Bartlett, who has been moved from SAM linebacker. Bartlett (6-2, 234), from Cheyenne, Wyo., had four sacks last season, including one against Alabama in the Peach Bowl.

Other contenders for playing time at Buck are redshirt freshman Amandre Williams from Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, and sophomore Bryce Sterk from Lynden.

Potoa’e took over for O’Brien at Buck linebacker in last season’s Pac-12 championship game against Colorado. A high-profile recruit from Lakes High School in Lakewood, the 6-3, 278-pound Potoa’e also had a key stop on fourth-and-goal from the UW 1 in the Apple Cup.

But now he is moving to the…

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