Spring Practice Preview: Defensive Line

The Cougars will return last year's starting defensive line intact and also have some promising backups that performed well when giving playing time. Indeed, the defensive line looks to be a position of strength, as the group looks to improve upon last year's performance.

With Jan Jorgensen, Ian Dulan, Brett Denney and Russell Tialavea all returning, the defensive line looks to be the strength of the defense for the 2009 season. All four players bring with them a wealth of experience and will only work to improve their game for next season.

The Cougars look to be especially strong at defensive end, where both Jan Jorgensen and Ian Dulan will be entering their fourth seasons as regulars at that position. Throw in Brett Denney, who started for the first time last season, and the experience factor could hardly be better for the position.

All three players have proven to be very effective the past two seasons and should only work to improve their overall play during the spring. There shouldn't be much depth-chart movement or surprises at defensive end this spring, which is very much a good thing.

Intriguing and Developing Options at the End

The intrigue this spring regarding the defensive end position will be surrounding two very exciting and promising prospects in Matt Putnam and Bernard Afutiti. Both players have shown very well in practices, and Putnam had some great moments on the field of play last season.

Matt Putnam isn't your prototypical defensive end for BYU's 3-4 system, in that he measures in at 6 feet 6 inches and 237 pounds, but there is no doubting his athleticism. That athleticism compensates for some of the lower-body strength that he lacks.

Putnam is one of the better all-around athletes on the team, and he showed that last season. At the very least he will again serve as a top pass-rushing and coverage option during long-yardage downs, but will use this spring to further develop his effectiveness at defending the run in order to become someone that coaches can afford to give more reps to.

Meanwhile, Bernard Afutiti is the prototypical 3-4 type defensive end in that he has great burst to go along with some very good lower-body strength. Afutiti redshirted last season but it was very apparent that he could have contributed, and contributed well, had the team needed him.

Afutiti will play this year, and if practice is any indication, he'll be nearly as effective - if not at least as effective - as those ahead of him currently on the depth chart. With Afutiti and Putnam working to improve their play, they'll only add to an already very strong and imposing Cougar defensive front at the end positions.

Strength in the Middle

The Cougars should also prove to be very strong up the middle of the defense at the nose tackle position. Russell Tialavea returns, and although he played well during stretches last season, we'll be watching to see if he regains his dominant pre-injury form this spring.

Tialavea needs to demand a double-team on every down should the defensive front hope to reach its potential. He didn't demand that double-team last year, allowing offensive lines to double-up and triple-up far too often on Jan Jorgensen. Should Tialavea regain his form and demand a double-team on every down, it will do wonders for the defense as a whole.

Other Options

Rick Wolfley returns and will again likely resume his role as Tialavea's main backup, especially during short-yardage downs.

Wolfley has battled with keeping his weight down since arriving at BYU, and we'll be sure to note how he's doing in that area along with any strides he makes with improving his pass rush this spring.

Tevita Hola had a disappointing year last season, as he wasn't able to contribute much to the defensive line at the nose tackle position.

We'll be watching to see if Hola has improved his conditioning and his overall game. Hola has a lot of potential and could benefit the defensive line tremendously if he reaches that potential.

Afutiti could very well prove to be an option at nose tackle if they need him to be. He should be an option at nose tackle during passing downs, where his above-average burst off the snap could be utilized very well for providing an effective middle pass rush.

We'll also be anxiously watching other players such as David Tuitupou and David Kalamafoni to see if they can contribute to the overall talent and depth of an already strong and promising Cougar defensive front.

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