Starters don't come as solid as both Jan Jorgensen and Brett Denney a year ago, as both players began the year as multi-year starters. This year, no returning starters will be returning at the end positions, although the two expected starters do have game experience.
Strength in the Middle
Fortunately for the defensive line and the entire defense as a whole, there aren't a lot of questions left to be answered at the nose tackle spot, where there is returning talent and some promising incoming talent.
Romney Fuga (6-1, 295 Jr.) will most likely be leading the charge at nose tackle after coming off a season in which he started at the position. Solid is the operative word when talking about Fuga, as he's contributed very well in each of his previous seasons.
Fuga is expected to rotate primarily with 2007 starter and Las Vegas Bowl hero Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2, 280 So.), who is now home from his mission and is expected to pick up where he left off. Manumaleuna has already proven to be more than equal to the task of manning the physically demanding middle of a 3-4 defensive alignment and will hopefully have regained at least most of the play he showed pre-mission.
The Cougars looked to have two more able bodies in the form of true freshmen to help out specifically at nose tackle, until it was reported that Jordan Afo did not qualify and will opt to start his career at Snow. Travis Tuiloma (6-3, 290), meanwhile, has been working out with the team since the middle of June and should be raring to make the sort of impact that both Manumaleuna and Fuga made when they were true freshmen.
Coach Kaufusi has always held that it's best to have at least three able bodies to rotate at nose tackle, and finding and developing an adequate three-man rotation will be the goal of the fall practice session. Fortunately, the primary option is well established, thus leaving a greater margin of error for the search to find rotating options.
Becoming Every-Down Players
At the two end positions, Kaufusi is looking for consistency from his returning defensive ends from a year ago. Those players are Vic So'oto (6-3, 265 Sr.) and Matt Putnam (6-6, 255 Jr.).
Both players are blessed with an enormous amount of talent, and each have shown flashes of great play in the past. This year they'll simply be asked to be more consistent, especially so in defending the run, where their ability to do so will be exposed early with a matchup against Air Force in week two.
A group of three other players have shown well during this past spring and will most likely factor into the deep-deep roster when it's all said and done.
This group is headed by Jordan Richardson (6-3, 275 So.), who could play either at end or at nose tackle. Richardson probably won't crack the starting lineup this year, but he provides a very solid and reliable option at both the inside and outside positions.
Spring was the first time we were able to watch Thomas Bryson (6-3, 260 Fr.), and we came away impressed with his prospects. Bryson does have the ability to grab a starting spot this year, and it should be noted that past experience shows Kaufusi is more than willing to start a freshman over a more experienced player should said freshman prove able.
Jadon Wagner (6-4, 264 Jr.) has had a difficult time finding a role within the Cougar defense since joining the program, but looks to change that in 2010. Wagner, like So'oto and Putnam, has a world of ability and it may just materialize into a big role at defensive end this coming season.
Even More Options
The defensive end position will be doing its best to match the tight end position with the amount of young freshmen that will be competing for spots. The coaches recruited very well for defensive end in 2010, and there are three very exciting prospects that will start competing for the end positions as true freshmen this month.
Graham Rowley (6-4, 270) committed to BYU early and looks to be a perfect fit as a defensive end in a 3-4 system. He's certainly someone who could warrant immediate playing time – if not start – if he lives up to a lot of his promise coming in.
Tayo Fabuluje (6-6, 270) has a wealth of talent and promise in his own right, but is somewhat unseasoned in basic defensive end techniques coming in. His upside is huge, however, and he could realize that upside sooner rather than later and play a role along the Cougar defensive front as a true freshman.
Alani Fua (6-6, 230) is certainly one of the more intriguing true freshmen that will begin practicing starting August 7. Fua will most likely compete at defensive end, although there has been talk of him possibly playing the weak side linebacker spot.
Joining the scholarship players will be some promising walk-ons such as David Tuitupou (6-5, 254 So., Garrett Eskelson (6-4, 213 So.), Simonte Vea (5-11, 245 Fr.) and others who will be trying to make spots for themselves.
Overall, the position looks relatively secure, as the amount of bodies Kaufusi will have to choose from should account for any lack of experience he has at the position. Defensive line is a position where a true freshman can shine maybe more so than at any other position, which indicates that the defensive line will be relatively strong overall entering the 2010 season.