Dick Harmon: Defensive line may have addressed number game

Published: Saturday, July 30 2011 8:50 p.m. MDT

Romney Fuga

It's been playing with mixed pairs of socks for years, and now BYU's defensive line may open up fall football camp next week with deeper talent and flexibility than it has had in a decade.

And, it'll have an attitude, according to one of its leaders.

"We will have a lot of energy," said starting middle tackle Romney Fuga. "There will be a lot of passion, a lot of crazy guys."

Before fall drills begin, I predict this group will raise some eyebrows leading up to the season opener with Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., on Sept. 3.

The 2011 Cougar front will be exceptionally stout, remarkably strong and will be a strength of the defense.

D-linemen in numbers at BYU? It's been a very long drought since Gary Crowton and the man who followed, Bronco Mendenhall.

How tenuous has it been?

Consider:

Last fall, the Cougars best nose guard Romney Fuga crashed to the turf in the Nevada game after being hit low and from behind by a blocker and his season ended following knee surgery after starting four games.

His replacement Jordan Richardson also went down for the remainder of the season at Colorado State after starting five games. He also had knee surgery. This meant DE Ethyan Manumaleuna moved over to play middle guard in the three-man front.

A mincemeat crew, indeed.

It has been BYU's rookie show on the D-line for some time.

With little experience to lean on the last decade, the Cougar front line consistently saw freshmen starting like Jan Jorgensen, Ian Dulan, Manumaluena, Russell Tialavea and Fuga.

The issue became more complex when BYU's recruiting gambles haven't panned out since 2001.

A starting point in that regard might be a look back at former Cougar defensive end C. J. Ah You, who was expelled for honor code violations in the bleak 2004 season. Ah You transferred to Snow College before finishing his collegiate career at Oklahoma. He is now with the St. Louis Rams.

In 2006, the Cougars invested in Matangi Tonga, the younger brother of RB Manase Tonga. The younger Tonga was also expelled, and after trying to return, he attended a California JC in San Mateo, Calif., and is now a senior at the University of Houston.

BYU signed Bernard Afutiti, who had been recruited by USC, out of San Antonio College in 2008. Afutiti never made it academically, and at the end of 2009, Mendenhall announced Afutiti would no longer be on the roster.

That recruiting year BYU also listed as a signee current Utah tackle Star Lotulelei (Bingham High School), who ended up at Snow College before joining the Utes.

The bodies in motion have been interesting stories. They'd made a good soap opera and BYU has had its share of working with players directly out of high school on its defensive front.

That will change this season.

In the middle, behind the experienced junior Fuga, will be redshirt freshman Travis Tuiloma and USC senior transfer Hebron Fangupo. These guys can blow up run plays from the middle and collapse a pocket. They'll be tag-teaming it.

On the ends, BYU returns senior Matt Putman and junior Manumaleuna. Then there's Dulan, who started right out of Kamehameha High in Hilo, Hawaii, in 2006. He just returned from an LDS mission, and if his shoulder injury isn't healed by this fall, he will likely redshirt, but Dulan can play nose or end.

Highly touted 2010 recruit Graham Rowley is now a sophomore and is pushing Putman at left end.

Tight end Mike Muehlmann moved over to DE during the spring and incoming freshmen Moses Kaumatule, Baker Pritchard and Stehly Reden will battle for depth-chart positions.

All in all, it’s a numbers game, one that BYU's coaches have not had the luxury of enjoying in a long time at this key position.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com

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