Provo • BYU’s spring football practices this month have mostly been about the offense after Jeff Grimes was hired to replace Ty Detmer and made sweeping changes to the offensive staff and the Cougars’ attack.
BYU’s defense, which had a role in the woeful 4-9 season but did not get as much blame as the offense did, is not standing pat either, linebackers coach Ed Lamb said Monday.
“Both in terms of personnel and tactically, we want to grow a little bit as well,” Lamb said. “Coach [Kalani] Sitake is getting a little more involved now, and some of the things he has in common with coach [Ilaisa] Tuiaki we have moved into more than before. We have a little more variety in what we do.”
A lot of those personnel changes have involved the free and strong safety positions.
Most notably, playmaking cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku has moved to strong safety and speedy free safety Zayne Anderson has moved to flash linebacker, the position Fred Warner played.
BYU’s defense in 2018 will have more speed at linebacker and in the secondary than perhaps ever before, Sitake said.
“Speed helps,” he said. “For some of the schemes we are asking our guys to do, we are going to need more speed on the field, and that’s why we are making some adjustments and trying to get some athleticism.”
Two of the better athletes on the team, running back Austin Kafentzis and cornerback Troy Warner, have also been moved to safety, although Warner is still recovering from a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury he suffered against East Carolina last fall and has been limited in spring camp.
“We want to get more speed on the field, for sure, but another way to say it is we want to get the best guys on the field, whether it is strength or speed or size, or a combination of all of those,” Lamb said. “We are just trying to make sure we don’t have guys that could potentially help us win a game who are on the sidelines watching.”
• Dayan Ghanwoloku, Jr.
• Dayan Ghanwoloku, Jr.
• Troy Warner, Jr.
• Gavin Fowler,Sr.
• Tanner Jacobson, Sr.
• Sawyer Powell, Sr.
• Grayson Magleby, Jr.
• Sam Baldwin, Jr.
• Austin Kafentzis, Jr.
If the season started today, Ghanwoloku and junior Austin Lee, a transfer from Utah, would likely be the safety starters. Seniors Tanner Jacobson and Gavin Fowler and junior Isaiah Armstrong have also made some plays in practice and provide good depth, along with Kafentzis.
Moving guys to different positions “is something we are always going to do,” Sitake said. “I don’t think you can ever be settled on guys at certain positions. People change and talent comes in and competition gets better, so whatever you can do to get the best 11 on the field [you do], and then after that provide quality depth.”
New safeties coach Preston Hadley said the emergence of young cornerbacks such as Chris Wilcox, Trevion Greene and Keenan Ellis and the improvement of veteran Michael Shelton have enabled Ghanwoloku and Warner to be moved to safety.
“For Dayan, his skill set is perfect for the way we use our strong safety,” Hadley said. “He is still using the skills he developed as a corner, just being able to cover guys. But his natural skill set and size are great for a strong safety.”
Ghanwoloku, who changed his last name from Lake last year to honor a deceased uncle, said the new position gives him a better opportunity to make plays.
“When they asked me, I was all for it,” he said.
Like Lamb did last year when he was safeties coach, Hadley would like to rotate four safeties in and out of games to keep them fresh against the high-tempo offenses BYU will see in 2018.
“You need a minimum of four guys at safety, preferably five, to get you through a season,” Hadley said. “We feel like we’ll have that when Troy [Warner] gets back and Austin [Kafentzis] gets more acclimated.”