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Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

BYU football fall practice position preview: The defensive line

By Brandon Gurney, Deseret News

Published: Tue, July 29 10:05 a.m. MDT

 Steve Kaufusi, defensive line coach (left) and head coach Bronco Mendenhall of Brigham Young University watch a play against San Diego State University during the second half of play in Provo Saturday, October 9, 2010  Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Steve Kaufusi, defensive line coach (left) and head coach Bronco Mendenhall of Brigham Young University watch a play against San Diego State University during the second half of play in Provo Saturday, October 9, 2010 Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

(Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

PROVO — BYU's defensive line featured some good frontline experience, but not a lot of depth throughout the 2013 season. That narrative looks to be flipped this season at the outset of the fall practice session.

The roster is filled with some exciting, yet unproven talent entering the 2014 season and that should lead to some notable competition throughout August practices.

Here's a glance on who the seasoned players returning are, who is poised to make some noise and what Deseret News reporters will be watching throughout practice sessions leading up to BYU"s opener versus UConn.

Returning experience

The most experienced returning player is junior defensive end Remington Peck (6-foot-4, 250 pounds.) Peck saw plenty of action last season and tallied 38 total tackles and five sacks. Peck missed spring practices due to injury, but is expected to be fully healthy when the teams start practices Friday.

Senior Marques Johnson (6-2, 308) also saw plenty of action last season backing up the nose-tackle position and returns as an assumed starter at the position. Johnson sat out spring with injury, but like Peck, is expected to return to full strength in fall.

Other returning players include sophomore Tomasi Laulile (6-3, 270), junior Logan Taele (6-2, 251), who saw some reps last season, sophomore Theodore King (6-2, 250) and senior Kalolo Utu (6-1, 300), who sat out last season with injury.

Junior Bronson Kaufusi (6-7, 263), who started at end throughout 2013, was switched to outside linebacker in the offseason.

Key additions

The good news for the defensive front is it returns two players who had good experience before embarking on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those players are junior defensive end Graham Rowley (6-4, 257) and sophomore nose tackle Travis Tuiloma (6-2, 280). Both logged significant game reps prior to mission service and returned in time to fully participate in spring practices.

They'll be joined by freshman defensive end Tanner Balderee (6-3, 250), who impressed in spring practices, senior nose tackle, and converted offensive lineman, Josh Carter (6-5, 296), sophomore defensive end Adam Ingersoll (6-3, 230), freshman Kesni Tausinga (6-1, 300), who also impressed during spring practices, and freshman Steven Richards (6-4, 240). Balderee, Tausinga and Richards are all recently returned from LDS Church missions.

The lone incoming true freshman out of high school is nose tackle Jatterius Gulley (6-3, 345).

Dark horse

BYU coaches believe they found a gem from the deep south when they offered, and then signed, nose tackle Gulley. The Hoover, Alabama, product impressed on both film and in individual workouts — leading coaches to believe he has a bright future as a Cougar.

Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi has a good history of developing true freshmen into immediate contributors and could very well do the same with Gulley.

General outlook

Deeper, but less experienced is the general outlook for the BYU defensive line in 2014. Despite the relative inexperience Coach Bronco Mendenhall waxed optimistic regarding his potential defensive line rotation coming off of spring practices.

Fielding a solid three-man rotation at nose tackle will especially be key due to the extreme physical toll the position engenders.

Look for Peck to lock down one defensive end spot throughout fall practices, but for the other two positions to remain in competition throughout. Starting at any defensive line position isn't as important as proving to be one capable of playing in Kaufusi's rotation. Who those rotation players prove to be will certainly be of note throughout the coming month.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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1. Johnny Triumph
American Fork, UT,
July 29, 2014

Go Cougars!

2. Taysom4Heisman
Heber City, UT,
July 29, 2014

I'm not going to lie. I'm concerned about the D-line having much of an impact. Peck was decent but really didn't do anything special, and the same goes for Tuiloma and Rowley before their missions.

As I have re-watched most of our games from last year, there is something that was very interesting: when Eathyn was in at nose tackle, we pretty much stuffed the run every time, with the exception of the Wisconsin game. However, when Marques Johnson was in, we allowed teams to smash it through the middle pretty easily. Against Wisconsin, it was just ugly when Johnson was in.

I do feel like there is much more depth, so hopefully we can rotate more and keep players fresh. That seemed to be an issue last year. But still, I don't see any difference makers on this line. Just a bunch of mediocre players in my opinion.

3. kaysvillecougar
KAYSVILLE, UT,
July 29, 2014

I've been very concerned about the D-line not having the stars or big names, but I'm pleased that the coaches aren't worried about them at all. Kafusi is a great D-line coach and there seems to be some solid development there. If they really can lock down the middle, this is going to be a great defense. Anyone listed at 230-240 lbs shouldn't even be considered. They need some beef in the middle who can't be moved. GO COUGARS!

4. Idahotransplant
West Jordan, UT,
July 29, 2014

I wouldn't put it past Bronco to devise schemes that will utilize Bronson Kaufusi in a down position periodically if needed at times.

The DLine and Oline are big question marks for this year. How they play will determine the Success of BYU this year.

5. Casey See
FLOWER MOUND, TX,
July 29, 2014

I didn't see anything here that said that the coaches aren't worried. They only really said that they have more depth than last year. I have to believe that the coaches are worried about both the D and O lines until they have proven themselves by the 3rd or 4th game. Then maybe the coaches can relax a little on that point.