PROVO — Choices.
That's an element football position coaches like to have in their troops — enough good bodies to create competition, provide talent for depth charts, and yield flexibility to game plans.
And don't forget the luxury of playing a lot of people to keep fresh legs on the field — like baton handoffs on a track relay team.
It's been a very long time since BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi has experienced "choices" when looking over his roster of defensive linemen at BYU.
"This is as deep as I can remember here," said Kaufusi.
In the Cougars' 3-4 front, the down linemen are basically tackles — guys with a certain body type, players that can hold ground, collapse a pocket, take on blockers, penetrate the line, make plays on running backs and allow lineback-
ers to make a lot of plays.
The Cougars have so many choices this fall, Kaufusi plans on redshirting three-year starter Ian Dulan, who just returned from an LDS mission.
"I tell everybody who asks me, this really is the best depth I've had since I got here," said Kaufusi, who came to coach at BYU after leaving Utah 10 years ago. Kaufusi has been a Division I coach for 17 years.
"As far as depth, you put in another guy and it (the talent) doesn't drop off as far. So, we can rotate six guys in there plus a center guy."
Right now the two-deep on the line includes Graham Rowley and Hebron Fangupo at left end, with Romney Fuga and Travis Tuiloma at nose tackle. On the right end are Eathyn Manumaleuna and Jordan Richardson. Kaufusi is cross training all those players to play noseguard or end.
Kaufusi will find out when school starts if senior defensive ends Matt Putnam and Thomas Bryson will return to the team. Bronco Mendenhall told reporters this past week he was "very comfortable" with the six defensive linemen he's seen on the field so far this fall, despite the status of the two others being up in the air.
"I just like the fact our level of play isn't going to drop. I like the fact I can count on more than four or five guys. I like the idea that an injury won't hurt us as much. Last year, we lost (nose tackles) Romney Fuga and Jordan Richardson. It was a huge challenge and we had to move Eathyn inside," said Kaufusi.
Fangupo, who has been battling an ankle sprain, is a one-year player from USC who is fighting conditioning issues at 340 pounds but has been very effective, said the coach. That Fangupo dropped in for just one season only sweetened the pot for the Cougars.
"We're trying to get him more endurance and stamina," said Kaufusi. "He's only been here since January and had spring to learn our system. He doesn't have a redshirt year. This is it for him. We like what we see, he can really help us."
This unique run for Kaufusi will face new challenges next fall when six freshmen in the program will depart for missions. Those six are planning to go after this season unless they change their minds and decide to play like Dulan and Manumaleuna did before their church service.
This is one reason Kaufusi is trying to redshirt Dulan, so he can be an anchor next year. The Cougars do get Remington Peck and Kaufusi's son Bronson back from missions in 2012. Former starting nose tackle Russell Tialavea also returns from a mission but must appeal for a medical hardship to be eligible for one more season.
"That will be huge if we get Russell back."
Kaufusi said his troops still have a lot of work to do to play at the level needed this fall.
"We need to get all the mental errors out of the bag," he said. "We need precision and execution. Each day we're getting better."
It's interesting that his son Bronson, who was a defensive end and tight end at Timpview High School, is the highest-ranked defensive line recruit the Cougars have signed out of high school in the Bronco Mendenhall era. If you believe in the "star" rating system, Bronson was ranked No. 19 by Scout.com.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound athlete suffered an ACL injury his senior year at Timpview in 2010, but his father said Bronson actively rode a bike the first eight months of his mission in Auckland, New Zealand, and has played rugby on his preparation days.
"He loves his mission," said the father. "His knee has healed fine. He was disappointed when he was assigned a car this summer and couldn't do the bike thing anymore."
On a side note, Bronson recently attended a conference where three zones of LDS missionaries and the mission president were fed by a Tongan church member in Auckland. Bronson wrote home that the man, Sidney Ofahulu, was a former missionary companion to his father, Steve, in Tonga.
Bronson returns from New Zealand in July 2012.
At times, it is a small world.