Meet Russell Tialavea. Those who followed recruiting two years ago know that Tialavea is a defensive lineman from Southern. His arrival at BYU was as eagerly anticipated as that of Matangi Tonga. An injury and subsequent surgery delayed Tialavea's on-field arrival, but the four star recruit was healthy and practicing with the team before the Las Vegas Bowl.
Although he has proved nothing on the field, Tialavea has the talent and the potential to fill the gap at what is the Cougar's most glaring defensive weakness. Tialavea should get a lot of valuable reps this spring because he is the only true defensive tackle aside from Hala Paongo. The development of the DT position this spring will go a long way in dictating how successful the defense will be this coming year.
Help on the Corners
The status of the defensive secondary is a story-line that has surrounded every spring and fall practice session at BYU for years. This off-season will be no different, but if all goes well, it may be a few years before the story rears its ugly head again.
BYU acquired the midyear transfer Tico Pringle from Snow College, so he will be a new face to watch this spring. Pringle will join a bunch of oft-injured cornerbacks who were under intense scrutiny last season. The veterans will draw on a year's experience as they try to re-establish themselves Here are the candidates to assume the primary outside coverage roles for the Cougars:
a. Tico Pringle – As mentioned, Pringle is a midyear transfer who has yet to suit up for an official BYU practice. He showed good skills while at Snow college and has decent size at 5-10, 185. All eyes will be on Pringle to determine if he represents hope for the future at the cornerback position.
b. Justin Robinson – Robinson came out last season on fire knocking down passes and defending very well until his ankle got twisted during the game against TCU. Every practice since that game, Robinson would take a seat on the grass while spending a full 10 minutes unwinding the tape wrapped around that ankle. It never fully healed throughout the year and Robinson's effectiveness suffered because of it. Robinson is now fully healthy and will work to prove his worth again starting this spring.
c. Kayle Buchanan – Buchanan came in mid-season due to being hampered by a hamstring injury and did some nice things. Buchanan has better size than most cornerbacks and is an above-average open-field tackler. He will undoubtedly improve from a year ago as he looks to be a mainstay in the secondary.
d. Nate Hutchinson – Hutchinson received rave reviews practicing with the scout team last year. He has better size than any of the cornerbacks at 6-foot-3. Hutchinson was hurt during fall practices, but he is now fully healthy and will look to make an impact.
e. Brandon Howard – Howard improved steadily throughout the year with the scout team. It was his first time playing the cornerback position. Howard has great speed and has built himself up to around 175 in the off-season.
f. Ben Criddle – Who? Criddle is a walkon who received praise from Mendenhall last year for his work with the scout team. He was the only guy on the scout team who could stay with all of the starting receivers.
The good news with the cornerback ranks is that there are options at the position. How viable these options are is yet to be determined. It will be something to watch very closely this spring as both cornerback positions appear to be wide-open at this point.
Sorting out the Safeties
The safety positions will be wide open this spring thanks to graduation and questionable performances last season. Included in the battles for the starting spots will likely be Dustin Gabriel, David Tafuna, Cole Miyahira, who has been working out as a safety throughout the off-season, Quinn Gooch, Corby Hodgkiss and Adam Nelson. This will also be an interesting competition to monitor this spring. Look for movement of players from safety to linebacker and maybe even cornerback to safety.
Back to the Defensive Line
Mendenhall and company would be fortunate if the nose tackle position was the only wide-open spot along the defensive front. As luck would have it, the entire starting defensive line and two of the back-ups graduated, so the depth chart will have to be largely rebuilt.
Top among the returning players is Kyle Luekenga, who saw time as a true freshman at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Luekenga will probably end up as a defensive end. Jan Jorgensen will likely join Luekenga as the other spring starter. Jorgensen was singled out by Coach Mendenhall for his performance with the scout team while redshirting last season.
Help will be on the way come fall, but only Tyler Berry and a few walk-ons will provide depth on the line.