Last year most prognosticators saw Tialavea as the most indispensable fixture on the Cougar defense due to the lack of adequate replacements behind him entering fall camp. Sure enough, Tialavea went down during fall practices and the coaching staff had to scramble to replace him.
This year no such questions surround the Cougar defensive line, as most of those who stepped up to solidify the line are back with good starting experience, and are ready to dominate the competition up front. Indeed, there are fewer questions and less to be sorted out along the defensive line than with any other position group on defense.
No Loose Ends Here
The defensive line will be led by conference sack leader Jan Jorgensen on one side of the Cougar defensive front. Jorgensen has started since his freshman year and has risen to become the team leader of the defense and someone his teammates can rally around.
Jorgensen simply knows how to play football. He also loves to play football and has worked as hard as anyone on and off the field to improve his overall play. Jorgensen has not rested on his impressive laurels this offseason, improving his overall speed as well as other aspects of his game.
On the other side of the line will be Ian Dulan, who like Jorgensen has started in each of his first two years and is slated again to start as a junior. Dulan is coming off a spring practice session in which teammates commented about how impressed they were with the strides Dulan has taken to improve his game.
Splitting time with Dulan will be fellow junior Brett Denney, whom many argued was at least as effective as Dulan when rotating in to man the left side of the line. Denney will in no doubt only improve from what he showed last season: an effective rotating force on the defensive front.
Options at End
Steven Fendry came out of spring as Jorgensen's primary backup. Not having played the defensive end position going in, Fendry's learning curve was steep, but he came out of spring having improved every day during practice and will continue to do so as fall practices commence.
One of the more exciting options at defensive end is Bernard Afutiti, who comes in as a junior college transfer and may be called upon to contribute sooner rather than later. Afutiti has a redshirt option available, but certainly won't be looking to take that option this coming year.
Afutiti was courted by some of the best programs in the country, but chose BYU and will likely make a huge impact during his time as a Cougar. He is a top talent who could also fill in at the nose tackle position if the need arises.
Strong at the Point
At the point of attack of the Cougar defense at the nose tackle position, the Cougars look potentially very strong entering fall practices. Should Russell Tialavea return to his pre-injury form, the Cougars should prove to be dominant at nose tackle.
Tialavea is often regarded as the top overall talent on the defense, and for good reason. He has everything it takes to be a top nose tackle, from lower-body strength to above-average burst off the line - or what defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi calls "quick twitch."
Backing up Tialavea is a very able corps of linemen headed by Tevita Hola, who impressed this past spring. Hola is a midyear transfer who basically did everything you'd expect from a midyear junior college transfer this spring by showing some solid play while moving up the depth chart.
With Hola comes Mosese Foketi, who can also fill in at defensive end, and converted offensive lineman Rick Wolfley, who filled in last year to give some valuable reps. Add to that the contributions which may be made by incoming freshman Solomone Kafu, and the Cougars look to be well-stocked at every position along the defensive front as fall practices begin.
All Eyes On
There won't be a player on defense this reporter will search out harder during the first week than Russell Tialavea. I'll be looking to see if he's regained his form, and if he hasn't, I'll be watching him daily as he works to regain that superior form he showed as a true freshman.
With most everything else established on the defensive line, I'll be searching out Bernard Afutiti often to see what he shows during practices and if he could potentially make an impact this year, and I'll do the same with Solomone Kafu.