If BYU fans have learned anything about the 3-4 defense, it’s that the nose tackle position is critical to its success. Luckily for BYU, heading into 2015, is that they have a rock in the middle in Travis Tuiloma. Tuiloma split time with Marques Johnson in 2014 but the spot is all his now and with a season under his belt after returning from his mission, he’s expected to make more of an impact.
Backing up Tuiloma will be Kesni Tausinga, who’s had a season to get into shape after returning from a mission prior to the 2014 season. Tausinga struggled with some foot issues in 2014 but should be healthy and ready to contribute in spring ball. Jaterrius Gulley is also expected to see some reps in the middle. The 346-pound redshirt freshman still needs to shed some pounds but is a big body to put in the middle. He’ll be looking to make a name for himself during spring drills and work his way up the depth chart.
Graham Rowley and Remington Peck enter their senior seasons at BYU and both are expected to be the starters at defensive end entering spring ball. They will have plenty of competition for playing time thought as Logan Taele came on extremely strong in 2014 and will want to lock down a starting spot in his final season as a Cougar. Tomasi Laulile has come along nicely and showed flashes in 2014 of being a solid contributor.
Other veteran returners to the team that will try and make an impression during spring drills include Adam Ingersoll, Brayden El-Bakri, Kamalani Kaluhiokalani, and Theodore King. Newcomers include returned missionary Moses Kaumatule, Latanoa Pikula, and Isaiah Nacua. Nacua was a four star prospect out of Timpview High School and was a surprise signing for BYU on signing day in 2013. The younger brother of safety Kai Nacua, he’ll be a guy to watch as his natural abilities allowed him to dominate at the high school ranks.
Much discussion was made in 2014 about the so-called “Bronson Kaufusi experiment.” Kaufusi was hampered throughout fall camp and the early part of the season in 2014 with ankle injuries and it slowed his progression in transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker. Fans and the media called for Kaufusi to move back to the defensive line in 2015 but it appears he will finish out his career as a Cougar at linebacker. Backing up Kaufusi at Wheel linebacker up appears to be Troy Hinds and Sae Tautu, who are both players who can play in space better than Kaufusi. Hinds has a lot of hype surrounding him and Tautu has been a steady presence since returning from his mission. Sione Takitaki is another guy who will see time at the wheel linebacker spot due to his ability to get to the quarterback off the edge.
BYU lost Alani Fua to graduation so the Sam linebacker spot will be up for grabs. Fred Warner appears to have the inside track at the starting job but he underwent offseason surgery so he will not participate in spring drills. In Warner’s absence, Sione Takitaki should see substantial reps during spring ball at Sam backer. Troy Hinds and Sae Tautu could also see time at the position as outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga looks to find his best combination of players to put on the field. Tyler Cook redshirted in 2014 but is a player who could factor in at either Wheel or Sam linebacker during spring ball. The good news is that only Bronson Kaufusi appears to be locked into the Wheel linebacker position. Every other outside linebacker on the roster appears have the ability to play either Sam or Wheel. That versatility will pay dividends for BYU.
The cupboards are very full for BYU at the Mike and Buck linebacker positions heading into 2015. Playing time will be at a premium for the players hoping to see action. At Mike linebacker, BYU lost Zac Stout to graduation but Harvey Langi is the incumbent at the position. He’ll face stiff competition from Teu Kautai, who is looking to finish his career as a starter. Other players to keep an eye on at Mike backer will be Va’a Niumatalolo, Adam Pulsipher, and Phillip Amone. Any of those three also figure to be in the mix at Buck linebacker as well.
Manoa Pikula is a senior and has been expected to make the Buck linebacker position his for two seasons now. Will 2015 be the year he makes it his own and goes out on a high note? Not if Jherremya Leuta-Douyere has anything to say about it. JLD is also a senior in 2015 and will want to go out with a bang. As previously stated, playing time at the inside linebacker positions will be at a premium with 3 seniors and a junior filling out the projected two-deep. Another player who figures to challenge for playing time will be Austin Heder who played extensively in 2014.
Newcomers to the inside linebacker position include returned missionaries Rhett Sandlin and Nate Sampson, along with Brad Markham. The three will face long odds to see much, if any, reps with the ones in spring ball.
2014 was a season of hyped expectations for the BYU secondary. The substance on the field didn’t appear to match the hype. BYU lost Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson to graduation but has Michael Davis and Jordan Preator poised to take over the field and boundary corner positions, respectively. Davis and Preator had their moments in 2014 and the expectation is they’ll only improve in 2015. Spring ball will be pivotal for both players to get reps and continue to hone their skills.
Challenging Preator for reps and playing time at the boundary corner position will be Sam Lee, who’s endured a myriad of medical issues while at BYU, walk-on Washington State transfer Kamel Greene, and Micah Hanneman, who’s recently returned from his mission.
At the field corner position, Davis will be challenged by Michael Shelton and Garrett Juergens, both of whom played well in practices and on the scout team in 2014. Jordan Preator is also versatile enough to make the shift and play at the field position as well.
Other names to keep an eye on at cornerback include newcomers Gavin Fowler, B.J. Fifita, Sam Morrell, and returned missionary Sawyer Powell. All four players will also factor into the safety position battles as well.
BYU lost Craig Bills to graduation and saw Dallin Leavitt transfer to Utah State. Kai Nacua appears to have the KAT safety position on lockdown pending any suspension coming from the NCAA for his widely publicized role in the Miami Beach Bowl brawl. Who will run alongside Nacua at free safety is more of mystery.
Beginning with KAT safety, Nacua is the incumbent starter there. He’ll be challenged for time by Chris Badger, Michael Wadsworth, and returned missionary Matt Hadley. Hadley’s early returns as a freshman were great so it will bear watching to see if he will be able to knock the rust off quickly and make an impression in spring ball.
At free safety there’s been a lot of buzz this off season about Morgan Unga standing out in winter workouts. Former BYU linebacker Vic So’oto went on the radio recently and said Unga has the potential to be a three year starter for the Cougars. He’ll see competition from Grant Jones, a converted wide receiver who coaches were very high on in 2014, and junior college transfer Eric Takenaka. Takenaka is an underrated JC transfer and should make an impact right away. The three man race should yield positive dividends for BYU’s depth at the position but the hope is that one player steps up and takes the job by the horns.
Scott Arrellano departed the program on a high note in 2014. The roster shows walk-on redshirt freshman Chasen Brown as the incumbent for the Cougars at punter. Brown redshirted in 2014 and will be challenged by fellow freshman walk-on freshman Taylor Parker from Hurricane High School. This position will remain a mystery until both players see reps.
Projected BYU Defensive Depth Chart
Left Defensive End: Graham Rowley, Tomasi Laulile, Theodore King
Nose Tackle: Travis Tuiloma, Kesni Tausinga, Jaterrius Gulley
Right Defensive End: Remington Peck, Logan Taele, Isaiah Nacua
Sam Linebacker: Fred Warner (Injured-Will Miss Spring Ball), Sione Takitaki, Tyler Cook
Buck Linebacker: Manoa Pikula, Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, Adam Pulsipher
Mike Linebacker: Harvey Langi, Teu Kautai, Austin Heder, Va’a Niumatalolo
Wheel Linebacker: Bronson Kaufusi, Troy Hinds or Sae Tautu
Field Cornerback: Michael Davis, Michael Shelton or Garrett Juergens
Boundary Cornerback: Jordan Preator, Sam Lee, Kamel Greene or Micah Hanneman
KAT Safety: Kai Nacua, Chris Badger, Michael Wadsworth or Matt Hadley
Free Safety: Eric Takenaka or Morgan Unga, Grant Jones, Matt Hadley
Punter: Chasen Brown, Taylor Parker