Spring practice preview: defensive line

There looks to be some good returning talent mixed with some promising up-and-comers along the defensive front this spring. Most every position is wide open and will be competed for in earnest during camp.

The Cougars lost not only senior Vic So'oto, but also their two main nose tackles a season ago to knee injuries. Both Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson could very well be good to go this coming fall, but it's doubtful that either of them will be able to participate during spring practices.

The Given

The biggest and most important given on the defensive front this spring is Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2, 295 Jr.). He's proven to be very capable at playing either the nose tackle or end position and is subsequently extremely valuable. Given the lack of able bodies at nose tackle this spring, he'll likely be logging most of his time there.

Matt Putnam (6-6, 271 Sr.) has logged some good time at defensive end, but has struggled to become an every-down type of end who can defend against the run as well as the pass. This spring he'll look to become more well-rounded in locking down one of the end positions.

Thomas Bryson (6-6, 235 So.) proved to be a capable performer last season and will certainly be vying for one of the starting spots this spring. With three proven performers, it gives a good foundation to build up a solid two-man rotation at each of the three defensive line positions.

The Intrigue

A lot of the intrigue this spring at the defensive line involves USC transfer Hebron Fangupo (6-1, 310 Sr.). Fangupo will warrant a lot of note taking, as he could certainly add considerably to the critical nose tackle position.

Should Fangupo prove effective, and both Richardson and Fuga return in time for fall, then it will allow Coach Steve Kaufusi to move Manumaleuna back to defensive end. The options there open up considerably if Fangupo can prove capable to take at least 40 percent of the reps at the nose position.

Graham Rowley (6-4, 261 So.) had to fill in as a true freshman due to others being injured, and that should enhance how he's able to compete this spring. He's certainly one of the top candidates to man one of the starting defensive end positions for the 2011 season.

Travis Tuiloma (6-2, 316 Fr.) was praised by his teammates for his work as a scout-team member throughout last season. This year he'll look to translate that into a role during actual games should he stick around for the 2011 season. There is some question whether him or Rowley will be serving missions following spring practices, and we'll be sure to learn about that this spring.

Ezekial Ansah (6-6, 254 Jr.) has engendered a lot of intrigue on the TBS message board and chat room, and he showed some exciting promise last season. He's an exceptional athlete who could really break through this spring with some quality reps at the end position.

Others that look to contribute this spring include Garrett Eskelson (6-5, 233 Jr.), Matthew Jensen (6-6, 231 Fr.), Kalama Kaluhiokalani (5-10, 266 Fr.), Josh Marquardt (6-1, 248 So.), Mike Muehlmann (6-4, 240 So.) - who switched over from tight end - Matt Peterson (6-5, 260 Jr.) and Simonte Vea (5-11, 243 Sr.).

Overall, every starting position looks to be open this coming season. There are certainly players that one can readily pencil in as starters, such as Fuga and Manumaleuna, but there could be a number of combinations Kaufusi could use to form his two-deep along the defensive front.

Spring practices will usher in the sorting-out process, and there looks to be a wide variety of options for coaches.


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