BYU football: Defensive line will rely on depth, not stars
Provo • The 3-4 defense employed by BYU isn't designed to turn defensive linemen into superstars, or even household names, but the Cougars have had more than their share of good ones since coach Bronco Mendenhall scrapped the 3-3-5 to take advantage of the wealth of outstanding linebackers his program always seems to entice.
Guys such as Jan Jorgensen, Russell Tialavea, Romney Fuga and Eathyn Manumaleuna have made defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi's 12-year tenure in Provo a success.
This season, though, Kaufusi and the Cougars will rely on depth rather than a star player to make that unit a force, as coaches attempt to replace the departed Manumaleuna and 2013 starter Bronson Kaufusi (Steve's son), who has dropped some weight and moved to outside linebacker.
Steve Kaufusi and Mendenhall have been saying that the squad could be three-deep at all three defensive line positions, a far cry from last year when they played a total of four linemen in some games, and starters Manumaleuna, Kaufusi and Remington Peck rarely got breaks. Those three started in every game but one last year: Peck did not start against Notre Dame because the Cougars opened the game in a nickel package with just two down linemen.
"I like our defensive line," Mendenhall said. "There might not be as many featured players, but what the depth has given us, I think collectively, will probably overpower what maybe one featured player would be able to do."
Kaufusi said if a couple players who are "on the bubble" step up and prove they can be counted on, he could literally rotate four entire units through a game with not much drop-off.
"We have got more kids here, and we can rotate those kids and not lose much," Kaufusi said. "We have a good competition going between the guys. We are trying to take little steps each day to see who can do what. It has been really refreshing to see more bodies out there, guys we can throw in."
Peck, who prepped at Bingham High before a church mission to Rochester, N.Y., will be the cornerstone this year after seeming to shine the most in the bigger games last year, recording a career-high seven tackles against Utah, six tackles against Georgia Tech and a sack against Texas. He put on 30 pounds while working with a nutritionist, all while keeping his body fat percentage low.
"It was tough, physically, at 245 last year, pushing 320-pounders around every play," Peck said. "I can tell a difference, especially against the run."
Peck said he's looking forward to getting more breathers this season.
"It has been nice knowing there are people behind you that can do the job, but also knowing you can go as hard as you want when you are out there, and then you are going to get a break," he said.
At nose tackle, senior Marques Johnson was the presumed starter, even if he didn't participate in spring drills for precautionary reasons after a blood clot was found in his lungs. But the transfer from El Camino (Calif.) College hasn't been running with the first-string all camp, and there are indications that he will be suspended for the opener Aug. 29 against UConn.
Travis Tuiloma, a sophomore returned missionary, has emerged as the probable starter at nose, said Mendenhall, who works with the nose tackles for a brief time every practice.
Another recently returned missionary, junior Graham Rowley, was the presumptive starter at left end after spring camp, but he's being pushed by Logan Taele, a junior from St. George.
"Logan Taele has been doing really well," Kaufusi said. "If I had to pick somebody who has played really well against the run, he would be one of the guys that is up there. So he is definitely in the mix to be one of my first four guys out there. And he may end up starting."
The list of others vying to get playing time along the defensive line includes Tomasi Lauille, Theodore King, Jaterrius Gulley, Tanner Balderee, Adam Ingersoll and Kesni Tausinga.
Line 'em up
BYU's projected* starting defensive line:
Position Player Year Ht/Wt
Right end Remington Peck Junior 6-4/275
Nose tackle Travis Tuiloma Sophomore 6-2/285
Left end Graham Rowley Junior 6-4/280
*Note: Tribune projections; coaches have not named starters yet
BYU at Connecticut
P Aug. 29, 4 p.m. TV • ESPN