Fall practice preview: defensive line

There looks to be plenty of strength on the inside of the defensive line at nose tackle, but some question marks at the defensive end position. Fall camp will go a long way in determining a rotation for the defensive front, where head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall plans to get a bit creative.

As the start of fall camp nears, the strength of the returning defensive line looks to be on the inside. Last season, it was very much the opposite, as a rash of a injuries forced Coach Mendenhall to scramble to find adequate help at the critical nose tackle position.

This year, it looks to be the polar opposite.

"We could have as many as five able bodies to play at nose, but probably will stick with three," said Mendenhall. "I like how we looked at nose during spring practices."

The crucial middle

In any 3-4 defensive alignment, it's critical to be strong in the middle. Last year, due to injuries to both Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson, it was pretty much up to Eathyn Manumaleuna to man the middle all by his lonesome.

"There is no way that one guy can play every rep at nose tackle," said Fuga. "I think it's impossible. Eathyn did a great job, but realistically, a guy should be taking 80 percent of the reps at nose tackle at most, but more like 70 percent if he's to be effective."

This year, they'll have Fuga back along with promising freshman Travis Tuiloma ...

... and USC transfer Hebron Fangupo, who both impressed during spring practices. Those should very well be your three rotating nose tackles this season.

Who will be seeing most of the reps as the starter remains to be sorted out. Fuga has the experience and is a proven performer, but it's uncertain how well he'll be able to return from a devastating ACL injury from a season ago.

"I feel fine, but you never really know until you test it out," said Fuga during BYU's media day. "I'm confident that I can play like I did before my injury, and we'll find out soon."

Although defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi plans on using Manumaleuna and Richardson at the end positions, they could each potentially step in at nose if the need arises.

Intrigue at defensive end

One of the end positions is secure with its starter being Manumaleuna. He is a seasoned veteran and a proven performer that will very likely retain his slot as a starter heading into the season.

Opposite Manumaleuna is sophomore Graham Rowley ...

... who beat out senior Matt Putnam as the presumed starter following spring. They'll both battle it out again this coming fall practice session.

The wildcard here is Richardson, whose health is still a bit of a concern. Should he prove healthy, he's very likely to see a lot of reps at the end position, and could earn himself a starting role.

"We have a lot of options that we'll look at with our entire defensive line," said Mendenhall. "According to our opponent, we could easily play three nose tackles across and be effective with that. We're looking at a lot of different things there."

Thomas Bryson is another potential contributor, but he'll be forced to miss just about all of the August practices due to not being able to join the team until classes officially begin.

Joining the veteran mix will be some exciting true freshman prospects. Players such as Bingham's Baker Pritchard and Moses Kaumatule, along with Stehly Reden, could all make an early impact.

Another intriguing prospect is senior Ian Dulan, who is now back from his mission service. Dulan contributed heavily as a starter from his freshman season on, and could reprise that role this coming year.

Other potential contributors include sophomores Matt Peterson ...

... Mike Muehlmann and Matt Shirley, and senior Simonte Vea.

"We'll see soon enough how Ian looks off his mission and how ready he'll be to contribute," said Mendenhall. "Overall, I think we have a lot of potential to be deep and very good at all positions at defensive line."

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