The focal point of Bronco Mendenhall's three-man line is the nose tackle. Success for the man in the middle is not gauged by the number of tackles and sacks he makes, but by how well he holds his position. When the nose tackle occupies blockers, the linebackers and other would-be tacklers can make plays.
Hala Paongo (6-2, 280, Sr.) came out of spring practices as the starting nose tackle. Paongo bulked up and was significantly quicker than he was last season. He got off the snap quickly and dictated where the offensive linemen moved instead thereby creating gaps for the linebackers to fill. Paongo is a very serviceable player, but he will be better is he has a talented rotation behind him.
After taking most of his reps at defensive end for the last three years, Judd Anderton (6-5, 275 Jr.) may be making the move to nose tackle. Of course, he can also play defensive end in the situation dictates it.
Young and Talented
A bevy of highly recruited young players round out the depth at nose tackle. Unfortunately, none of them have any D-I playing experience. They must grow up quickly if the defense is to take any pressure off of the offense.
Russell Tialavea (6-3, 300, Fr.) will be back after sitting out most of spring practices due to a suspension. Tialavea was expected to vie for the starting nose tackle spot in spring. Now, he will only have three weeks of fall practice to get in game condition. Tialavea was highly regarded coming out of high school, and if there was ever a time to live up to the hype it has to be this season.
Mosese Foketi (6-1, 255, Jr). presents an interesting option coming out of the JC ranks as he could play either the nose or defensive end. At 255, Foketi will give up at least 40 pounds to interior offensive linemen, but if he can put on any weight he will get a very long look at the tackle spot..
Romney Fuga (6-2, 280, Fr.) will be a major contributor for the Cougars during his career, but the question is how soon will he make his presence known. Fuga comes to BYU as one of the top linemen in all of California. No coach wants to depend on a true freshman, but Fuga, the runner up in the California state wrestling heavyweight championship, will have as good a chance as any first year player.
On the Edges
In the new 3-4 system, the defensive ends will be asked to hold the line and open holes for the linebackers just like the nose tackle.
Two defensive ends took the majority of the reps during spring practice. Kyle Luekenga (6-3, 265, So.) and Jan Jorgenson (6-3, 255, Fr.) come into fall as the starters. Both players steadily improved throughout the spring.
Luekenga saw limited action last season, which will serve him well as he prepares to see the bulk of the reps at one of the defensive end positions this coming year.
Jorgenson relies more on quickness than does Luekenga, who plays a power game. Jorgensen is barely a year removed from his LDS mission, so he should be back to form physically.
Brett Denney (6-4, 250, Fr.) had made good use of spring practice following his LDS mission. Denney follows his two older brothers who were imposing forces at defensive end before moving on to the NFL. Denny has been working out with his older brothers all summer and it is very reasonable to expect a significant upgrade in his play this fall.
Like Fuga, Matangi Tonga (6-2, 270, Fr.) comes to BYU as one of California's top prep prospects. Tonga should prove the most capable of any of the incoming freshmen players to contribute right away. He is very physically gifted, and his talents, along with the need for able bodies, should allow for some serious playing time.
As mentioned Foketi is another player who could see a spot in the defensive end rotation. Foketi is very strong at the point of attack and will likely be on the two-deep at either nose tackle or defensive end.
Other options at defensive line include Hala Paongo's younger brother Temana Paongo (6-2, 270, Fr.), Dan Alleto (6-3, 270, Fr.), Ian Dulan (6-1, 245, Fr.), Jordan Richardson (6-4, 250, Fr.) and Sean Sullivan (6-4, 240 Jr.).
With only one experienced defensive lineman returning, Cougar fans should be anxious to see what happens with the D-line in fall camp. The good news is that there are a lot of options competing hard for playing time starting next week.
Look for a lot of players to be used at all defensive line positions this year. Every position is wide open, which should make for a very interesting fall practices.
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