D-linemen receiving more opportunities

With the heart-wrenching loss of nose guard Romney Fuga and then Jordan Richardson, the coaching staff is having to compensate. The changes being made are providing more opportunities for some of the younger players to receive more playing time.

It was hard watching Romney Fuga go down following a clip in the game against Nevada. It was equally tough watching Jordan Richardson grasp his leg in pain after a freak accident during the Colorado State game.

"It was a big loss losing Romney, and then especially when Jordan went down," Eathyn Manumaleuna said. "It's just a devastating thing. Losing Jordan was hard because his injury was just a freak accident. He planted his leg but his body kept going and just bended it. We thought it was a cheap shot like Romney, but it wasn't. It was just a freak accident, so unfortunately that happened to him and our team, because that's a very important position."

The nose guard anchors the middle of the 3-4 defense, and so having a larger and more physical presence in the middle is helpful in not only taking up space but demanding a double-team.

"Without the middle being stout, it's hard for the defense to be strong with the foundation," Manumaleuna said. "We do have guys to fill in the spot and we're willing to step up to the plate. Coach Mendenhall is working really hard with the inside d-lineman."

A number of linemen are now being switched around to help compensate for the injuries that the Cougars have suffered.

"I was cross-training with the d-end spot and in the middle, but I think they're going to have me focus on the middle now," said Manumaleuna. "We also have Graham [Rowley], and he's being moved into the middle. He'll be in the rotation, and then we'll have Mote Vea, who is a walk-on from Hawaii. So we do have bodies, but we're going to have to work a little harder now that Jordan is out."

"Graham Rowley has been stepping up and doing a good job, so moving him into the middle will help," Thomas Bryson said. "He's a hard worker and has a motor on him, so he'll help."

Although the coaching staff was hoping to redshirt Rowley this year, Coach Mendenhall mentioned earlier in the season that they might pull his redshirt. It's almost certain he'll get into the rotation now with two games left in the regular season.

"I won't have to move into the middle because our freshman are stepping up and will back up Eathyn in the middle," said Bryson. "I think I'll get a lot more playing time, especially now that we only have four d-ends. Eathyn isn't playing d-end anymore and neither is Graham, who now moved into the middle. I think that will allow me to have more playing time at the d-end position."

"We'll be okay, we're just thinner," Coach Mendenhall said. "You know, we've lost two starters at the same position, and fortunately we have enough players that are cross-trained to help us. To say it will be the same, I can't say that, but we'll be okay."

Bryson has been cross-trained at both defensive end positions as well as the Will linebacker spot. With Matt Putnam considered to not to be an every-down defensive end, Bryson could receive more playing time on the field side.

"Depending on the play, I'll be on this side or that side," Bryson said. "It's exciting because I now feel like more a part of the defense now. I've gotten down more of the plays and now they can use me more. They even have me dropping back into coverage in passing plays now.

"The coaches haven't really favored one side more than the other. Depending on the calls, most of the time I'll go to the outside and be wide so I don't have to go more inside and deal with the guards. I'm not playing one defensive end spot more than the other now."

Although he's putting in more time on both sides of the defensive line, Bryson will also continue receiving spare time at the Will linebacker spot.

"There are plays called where I'm at the Will spot and still have to do my responsibility," Bryson said. "It's a lot of fun. We have a package that we call and I'll go in at the Will spot where I can rush from the outside or drop back or into the middle as a defensive end."

"Thomas is kind of a cross between an outside linebacker and a defensive end, so we're trying to use him as both," Coach Mendenhall said. "He's handling it really well and he's smart and he active and trying really hard, and so we're encouraged. We're trying to use every personnel group and every player at this point in the year as best we can. We're not too deep right now."

Steven Thomas

Junior safety Steven Thomas is hanging up Cougar jersey. The one-time starter in the Cougar secondary has suffered a number of severe concussions, and the BYU staff feels it would be in his best interest to give up football.

"Steven Thomas, at kind of my recommendation, the doctors' recommendation and the trainers' recommendation, just thought he ought to step back from football," Coach Mendenhall said. "The risk for another head injury was way too great, and he's super smart and he loves our team, and so he's helping us coach right now. He's a student assistant and he's really been helpful to our young safeties. It's a hard transition for him and us, but I couldn't in good faith encourage him to keep playing. The risk was too great."

Total Blue Sports Top Stories