Spring recap: defense

Brandon Gurney runs down the defense and how each position shaped out this past spring. There were a lot of questions that were answered, but also some pieces that have yet to be filled in. Overall, the defense looks to be a very productive unit this upcoming season.

Defensive Line

There were some eyebrows raised when defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi decided to move Eathyn Manumaleuna, who was the last nose tackle standing last season, to the defensive end position. With both Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson still out due to injury, there were some questions regarding the team's ability to field an effective nose tackle this spring.

Enter both Travis Tuiloma and USC transfer Hebron Fangupo. Both played extremely well this past practice session, to the point that if both Fuga and Richardson are unable to reprise their effectiveness from last season, the Cougars will still be okay at the position.

At defensive end, the team was dealt a big blow by expected starter Thomas Bryson withdrawing from school. The hope is that he'll be able to return this coming fall and add considerably to the depth and talent at his position.

No player is as proven as Manumaleuna on defense, and this spring he once again proved to be very capable of manning the starting defensive end position. Mike Muehlmann, who switched over from tight end, had a very productive practice session and looks to add his talents to the two-deep roster this coming fall.

Who helped themselves the most?

This would have to go to Graham Rowley, who all but beat out Matt Putnam for the other starting end position opposite Manumaleuna. Putnam was with the ones for the first week of practice before Rowley took over. He proved to be a much better rounded end that can defend against the run as effectively as against the pass.

Overall, the defensive line and especially the nose tackle position looks to be very solid as the team heads into fall practices and next season. Should Bryson be able to return, those prospects become even brighter.

Outside linebacker

We'll start at outside linebacker, where both Kyle Van Noy and Jameson Frazier contributed some of the most effective and consistent play of any defensive performers this past spring. Both players proved very able to cover in space and to flat-out make plays all over the practice field.

Given the anticipated return of Jordan Pendleton, this group looks extremely promising going forward.

Ezekial Ansah had his moments and looks to be a good option as a rush end from the Will linebacker position. Connell Hess also proved reliable once again throughout the practice session.

Who helped themselves the most?

Alani Fua has always been as talented athletically as any player on the team, but there have been some questions as to how that talent would translate at outside linebacker. It translated very well, would be the answer after the spring practice session.

Fua received praises from his position coach Kelly Poppinga and saw a lot of good work playing the Sam linebacker spot with the second-team defense. He'll be used this year and his upside is as great as any defensive player on the team.

Inside Linebacker

The story at inside linebacker was Uona Kaveinga and his inspired play during spring. He not only established himself as the starter at the critical Mike linebacker spot, but also as an emotional leader on the defense who his teammates rally around.

Brandon Ogletree will likely be the starter at Buck and played sparingly due to injury, but reprised his influence as a competitive and aggressive force once again when he was healthy. Austen Jorgensen was effective at both the Mike and the Buck position, while Zac Stout wasn't able to participate much at all due to injury problems that could continue to plague him in the fall.

Who helped themselves the most?

I'm going with Spencer Hadley here. He was able to see a lot of good work with the ones at Buck linebacker due to Ogletree's injury problems and proved to be a good option to fill out the two-deep roster this coming fall. You're never quite sure how a returned missionary will look athletically, but Hadley looked very good and should have a big impact this coming season playing the Buck position.

Safety

Travis Uale went wire to wire as the starting free safety and showed to be a consistent option at his position. His teammates expressed a lot of confidence in him, naming him one of the two defensive captains following spring practices.

Mike Hague had a remarkable spring after switching over from running back, and he made a big impact. He was nipping at Uale's heels for the starting free safety spot, and that should continue into the fall, as he's become a real option to start.

Jray Galea'i provided good play at the Kat safety spot, but seemingly lost out to recently returned missionary Daniel Sorensen in regards to who will get the starting nod this season. Carter Mees was very limited throughout the spring due to injury.

Who helped themselves the most?

It would be very easy to go with Hague here, but I'm going to go with Sorensen. While Hague will continue to battle for a starting spot, Sorensen all but secured the starting nod at Kat safety. The job will be his to lose come fall.

It's yet to be seen what impact Joe Sampson can have with the safety corps once he joins the team next month. Should Sampson rise to a starting role, then that will be a big positive considering who he'll have to beat out.

Cornerback

Robbie Buckner had the sort of spring I was personally expecting him to have. Since he's entered the program, he's shown to have very quick feet and a good work ethic, and those traits should finally help him earn the starting nod at field corner.

Jordan Johnson made up some ground on Buckner throughout the spring, however, and he looks to be a very promising prospect moving forward. Johnson plays a bit more physical than Buckner and has the same sort of athleticism. Buckner's advantage now is in his technical soundness and knowledge of the coverages. They will continue to battle into the fall.

At boundary, both Preston Hadley and DeQuan Everett saw a lot of good work. Everett showed noticeable improvement from a year ago and will add good insurance to the position. Corby Eason sat out spring camp while recovering from offseason surgery.

Who helped themselves the most?

This one goes to Preston Hadley, who saw every rep at boundary corner with the ones. As practices went by, I found myself hardly noticing him or his play, which is never a bad thing if you're playing cornerback. More often than not, it indicates a player who is providing lockdown coverage that the opposing quarterback doesn't want to throw into.

It's hard not to imagine Hadley playing a significant role on the defense this season. Bronco Mendenhall looks to have at least four able cornerback options that could each play roles this coming year.


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