BYU's defensive line expectations

BYU lost boundary defensive end Vic So'oto – a versatile player who was Coach Mendenhall's first commit as BYU's head coach – to graduation. So what's in store for BYU's defensive line for the 2011 season? Junior nose guard Romney Fuga gives BYU fans a sneak peek of what to expect this year up front in the trenches.

They're outnumbered but rarely outmatched. BYU's defensive line is big, strong, versatile and full of playmaking potential.

"You have to have good instincts, be able to read the formation, understand the personnel and read the stances, then be able to calculate the play," Romney Fuga said. "That's where all the film room study comes in handy."

Fuga wanted one thing to be made clear: he will be back this year, after suffering a season-ending injury last year, and the middle of the defense will be taken care of without question.

"As for me, I expect BYU fans to see me back in my jersey," Fuga said. "That's my goal is to be back and for the fans to see me play again. I want BYU fans to know that the middle will be taken care of. If someone runs up the middle, that's my fault. Teams should not expect to run up the middle against us."

Much of the success of the 3-4 defense hinges upon securing the middle two-gap. This allows the middle linebackers to flow to the ball more freely to pursue the play without pesky offensive linemen getting in the way.

"The success of the defense depends a lot on me or whoever else is playing in the middle at nose guard," Fuga said. "If I don't do my job in the middle, then the linebackers have to cover for my mistakes and that opens up the outside. All I can say is don't expect to run up the middle on me in the inside. That's all I can say. Don't expect that to happen against this d-line."

Fuga not only has the ability to control the middle of the defense, but he also has a knack for being where he needs to be on a consistent basis.

"I would say that I'm consistent at being at the right place at the right time," Fuga said. "If you are able to be at the right place at the right time, you're on top of things. That part of your game comes with repetition and experience. It comes with practice and being able to read your keys to be in the one- or two-gap. I think that's what I bring to the d-line, is the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

"I've been playing this position for a while under Coach Mendenhall and Coach Kaufusi. I've noticed how far I've come in understanding how to play the position. The more you understand the nose guard position, the faster you're able to see and react to what's happening behind the offensive line. It then becomes knowing what to do in all these certain situations."

Fuga is confident that the defensive line will take care of business this season.

"Our d-line is going to be really good in allowing our linebackers to pursue the play," Fuga said. "If you see teams running on the inside, we probably didn't do our job very well. We have a lot of good, experienced players coming back that know how to control the line. We have Matt Putnam, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Graham Rowley and other guys, so we should have a dominant defensive line."

Joining Romney in the middle is 6-foot-1-inch, 310-pound USC transfer Hebron Fangupo, who is learning what it takes to anchor the 3-4 defense under Coach Mendenhall and Coach Kaufusi.

"Hebron is a freak," Fuga said with a laugh. "He‘s fast for how big he is. He definitely can help us out this year and I see him as someone who can penetrate any offensive line from the middle this year. He's big and very, very strong. He's just explosive and very strong. I think he just broke all the weightlifting records – well, I know he could if he wanted to at least. He's going to be a lot of fun to watch this year."

Also competing at the nose guard position is redshirt freshman Travis Tuiloma.

"Travis will be playing this year and won't be going on his mission until after the season I believe," Fuga said. "Travis is also very strong and is very hard to move off the point of attack. He's also a very good two-gapper like Graham [Rowley] is. You can't move him off the ball or from side to side, so he's good in the middle and the future is bright for him."

To the left of Fuga will be versatile junior defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, who came on very strong toward the end of last season.

"The one thing that I've noticed about Eathyn is he is very versatile," said Fuga. "He's athletic, a hard worker and one of those guys that you can trust will do the right thing every time. Whatever his job is, you know he'll take care of it no matter where he is playing. With me, I know how to play defensive tackle, but I don't think I could play defensive tackle. I like to be closer to the ball."

At the right defensive tackle position will be senior Matt Putnam.

"We'll have Matt Putnam coming back and he can play either side," Fuga said. "He's tall and rangy, which is an advantage for disrupting a quarterback's passing lanes."

In the two-deep defensive tackle mix will be sophomore Graham Rowley.

"Graham has definitely improved a lot," Fuga said. "He worked really hard last year to better understand what it takes to play on the defensive line in the 3-4-4 system. He really wants to play and worked hard to improve. He has it down. I was watching him practice this past spring and was thinking, ‘Wow, he's got really good technique.' He's a young and exciting new player, and I think he'll help us out a lot."

Rated the 11th best offensive guard in the nation for the 2010 class, Rowley was switched to the defensive line.

"He's really quick," Fuga said. "He also has deceivingly good strength. He's not a big, big type player, but he's really strong and solid and doesn't get pushed around. The one thing that Graham does well is he's a very good two-gapper. He knows how to read the guys in front of him and makes his move based on our play. That's one thing I've noticed about him, he's a very good two-gapper. Overall, I think we're going to be really good up front with our responsibilities in being able to control the line of scrimmage as tough, hard-nose players. It should be a good year for us and don't expect anyone to control the middle on us this year. That's all I've got to say."

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