Defensive Line Ready for Bigger Role

Decimated by losing six major contributors to graduation, the 2006 Cougar defensive line has plenty of work to do. Although young and not yet battle-tested, the D-linemen in BYU's spring camp are talented, hard-working and no where near limit of their ability.

"Hala is our only returning player with significant experience," said BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall of Cougar defensive tackle Hala Paongo. "Kyle Luekenga played a role last year as a true freshman seeing 8-10 plays a game last year. All the rest are coming off of redshirt years and missions. So we have a lot of work to do there."

"We're coming together," said Paongo who now finds himself at the top of the depth chart for defensive tackle. "I think we came out a little wide-eyed the first practice with pads, but we're settling down now. It's just all about working hard and being smart. Just getting to the ball and filling your gaps, that's what it's all about."

Paongo is taking his new leadership role full-on, knowing that he needs to be more of a teacher this year.

"I try and go out of my way to teach the younger guys technique and other stuff after practice," he said. "I know I was thankful for that when I was in their shoes."

Into the Gap

The institution of the new 3-4 package altered the approach taken by the defensive line. In order to utilize the defense's strength at linebacker, the defensive changed their assignments two where they are responsible for two gaps, rather than the one gap they covered last season. What's all this gap talk?

"Basically a two-gap has us lining up against the person in front of us, for me it's the tackle, and we just mirror whatever the offensive linemen we're lined up against is doing," said defensive end Jan Jorgensen. "If he steps outside, then I step outside. In the old system we had just one gap we were assigned to, but now we react to what the OL is doing and fill the gaps that way."

"We don't have a single gap responsibility, so we have to play both gaps," said Paongo. "We have to react faster and be quicker. We have more responsibility and have to react quicker to free up the linebackers to make plays."

The new and lighter Paongo who lost around 10 pounds in the off-season has welcomed the change so far.

"You want to be quick, especially in this new system, so you can react and get off the line faster," said Paongo. "So far it's helped as I'm able to react quicker and get to my gap responsibility."

"It's all about clogging up the middle and bouncing things outside where our great linebackers can make plays," added Jorgensen.

The defensive linemen want to do more than just fill gaps in the offensive line so the linebackers can take care of business. The D-linemen want to make a more direct contribution by making plays themselves.

"Of course we want to make some plays, we don't want the linebackers to have all the fun," said Jorgensen. "We just have to work that much harder to beat the O-lineman to the spot."

Practice Notes

The defense continued to step up their play in today's practice as they held their own throughout the practice for the most part. The offense was not without their stars, however:

- Receiver Matt Allen got behind the coverage for a 55-yard touchdown pass from John Beck. He followed that up by catching a 40-yard strike from Jason Beck.

- With the offense on the 10 yard line, the defense made four consecutive stops with to prevent a score. Brandon Howard knocked down two John Beck passes that would have gone for touchdowns. The first came on a fade attempt from the four yard line defending Michael Reed. For the second, Howard jumped an out pattern intended for Matt Allen.

Said Howard: "I need to start making plays if I want to stay on the field. Coaches have been telling me to start trusting my technique, which is good, and to make plays. I mean, what good is technique, if you're not making plays? Hopefully I can continue to make plays and practices like this are normal for me. It feels good to be in there with the first-teamers making plays."

- Andrew George and McKay Jacobson both made leading 20-yard grabs in double-coverage.

- Linebacker Bryan Kehl was again a frequent visitor in the backfield making several tackles for losses. After practice, Kehl was mentioned along with Kelly Poppinga by Coach Mendenhall as the two defensive players who have really caught his eye thus far in the spring.

- Tailback Fui Vakapuna was met by Gary Lovely in the backfield on one play, but as Lovely lunged at Vakapuna to make a tackle for a loss, Vakapuna stuck out his arm for a tremendous straight-arm that put Lovely flat on his back.

- Receiver Zac Collie caught a touchdown pass for 15 yards from Jason Beck

- Cougar commit Marcus Mathews was in from Oregon with his father to observe practice. Former Cougar head coach LaVell Edwards was also in attendance.

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