BYU football: Cougar defense has lots of holes to fill in 2014
College football • The team is especially lacking playmakers on that side of the ball.
Published: April 22, 2014 10:06AM
Updated: April 16, 2014 10:15PM
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Brigham Young linebacker Kyle Van Noy (3) runs for a touchdown for the Cougars, after intercepting a pass, in football action, in the Poinsettia Bowl, Thursday, December 20, 2012.

Provo • If quarterback Taysom Hill stays healthy, BYU’s offense in 2014 will undoubtedly be better than it was in 2013. The Cougars have to replace prolific pass-catcher Cody Hoffman and all-around playmaker JD Falslev, but not much else, in their quest to be more effective in the red zone and move the ball against the better teams on their schedule.

What about the defense?

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said that side of the ball will be fine in 2014 and up to the standard he has installed since taking over as defensive coordinator in 2010. He said it will be a “typical” Cougar defense: disciplined, sure-tackling and willing to give a fanatical effort.

“So that will be the next version of our defense, which will be very strong again,” Mendenhall said when spring camp ended on April 4.

But there are lots of holes to fill, namely the ones left by the departures of defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Uani Unga, and safety Daniel Sorensen. Van Noy surely will be taken in May’s NFL Draft, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s joined by any of the other three.

The Cougars are mostly set at every position, but lack playmakers, guys who can reverse the course of games like Van Noy did many times in his All-America career.

“We are eager to see which young guys emerge, because the capability is there,” said inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell.

Despite seeing his son Bronson Kaufusi move from defensive end to outside linebacker, defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi said his group will have plenty of depth and experience. Remington Peck, a tad undersized at 250 pounds, returns for his junior season and will get help from Graham Rowley, a returned missionary. Recent signees Jaterrius Gulley and Sione Takitaki will bolster the defensive line in the fall, along with sophomore Tomasi Laulile if he recovers from a dislocated patella injury.

At nose tackle, senior Marques Johnson missed spring camp after blood clots were detected in his lungs days before camp began, but Mendenhall said the 310-pound run-stopper should be back for fall camp, “so I am good there.”

Returned missionary Travis Tuiloma and redshirt freshman JonRhyheem Peoples should also see some reps backing up Johnson.

The Cougars’ outside linebackers when they open against UConn on Aug. 29 will likely be Kaufusi and senior Alani Fua, but sophomore Sae Tautu helped himself with a solid spring camp.

Look for incoming freshmen Fred Warner and Tyler Cook to play significant roles, though, and coaches are also excited about the return of missionary Troy Hinds, a highly recruited prospect out of Davis High.

Tidwell said junior Manoa Pikula “could be the next great one here” at inside linebacker. Another junior, Jherremya Leuta-Douyere could emerge at the other inside spot, while senior Zac Stout is back in the program after being dismissed from school in 2012 and was a pleasant surprise at camp.

Returned missionaries Austin Heder, Phillip Amone and Toloa’i Ho Ching will provide depth, along with junior Teu Kautai, although Mendenhall said at the end of camp that inside linebacker was his “biggest concern” as far as defensive depth was concerned.

At cornerback, senior Jordan Johnson returns to reclaim his starting spot after a knee injury kept him off the field in 2013. Junior college transfer Robertson Daniel is back, but could end up being moved to safety if junior Trent Trammell continues to shine like he did in the spring. Freshman Michael Shelton and junior Trevor Bateman are also in the mix at cornerback.

At safety, senior Craig Bills will likely move over to strong safety, where the aforementioned Sorensen played. Bills’ defensive backfield running mate will likely be Daniel, but expect the Cougars to play a lot of nickel in 2014 and incorporate the skills of sophomores Dallin Leavitt and Kai Nacua and experience of Skye PoVey, along with incoming freshman Kavika Fonua.

BYU’s defensive issues next season

• Marques Johnson should replace Eathyn Manumaleuna at NT, but he missed spring camp with blood clot problems.

• The Cougars will lack a Kyle Van Noy-like playmaker, with Alani Fua and Bronson Kaufusi taking over at outside linebacker.

• Craig Bills will man one safety position, but his running mate will lack playing experience as BYU replaces Daniel Sorensen.