Commentary: Eathyn Manumaleuna and the BYU defensive line dominant up front
Jason Olson, Deseret News
BYU is and will always be known as the quarterback factory. However, defensive linemen are rising to stardom under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
2013 is no exception.
The Cougars will certainly miss star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. It's not every day that a man of Ansah's raw athleticism comes BYU's way. He was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and the only other Cougar drafted that high was the great Jim McMahon.
And don't forget defensive tackle Romney Fuga and his 42 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. Fuga is now an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos.
But the talent pool is far from dry. Led by Eathyn Manumaleuna, the defensive line is ready for the tough slate of teams ahead.
Fans may recognize Manumaleuna's name from his game-winning field goal block against UCLA in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl.
Yes, Manumaleuna has been around since 2007.
2012 was supposed to be Manumaleuna's final season, but it came to an abrupt end after he injured his patella against Boise State. However, in the three games he played in he picked up 11 tackles, four of them for loss and two sacks.
Fortunately for the Cougars, Manumaleuna received a medical redshirt and has one more season of eligibility.
Manumaleuna is the most versatile defensive lineman BYU has with experience at nose tackle and at defensive end and he can play both positions well. Manumaleuna's experience will be invaluable as he acts as the anchor of this season's defensive line.
Meanwhile, defensive end Bronson Kaufusi worked on more than just football this past offseason. Basketball head coach Dave Rose brought Kaufusi on board as a forward as the Cougars struggled with career-ending injuries to Chris Collinsworth and Stephen Rogers. While he wasn't spectacular, he did contribute 1.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
However, Kaufusi's days as a Cougar basketball player are probably over.
Besides, Kaufusi's stats on the gridiron look much better than those on the hardwood. Last season he picked up 23 tackles, 5.5 of them for loss and 4.5 sacks.
His workload will certainly go up with Ansah gone, but he seems to be up for the challenge.
The other starting defensive end is Remington Peck. He saw limited action last season, but he had seven tackles and one sack. However, Mendenhall has definitively proven that he can build defensive players. Peck's stats and game should drastically improve this season.
BYU also has a few up-and-coming players who will likely contribute this season. Converted tight end Austin Holt has worked hard at becoming a solid defensive end. He has some work to do on his technique, but he has the athleticism to contribute to some degree this season.
However, the most interesting battle is at defensive tackle. While Manumaleuna is currently slated to start at that position, he told the Deseret News' Brandon Gurney that he'd rather play defensive end.
That opens the door for Marques Johnson and Tuni Kanuch.
Neither player has any experience at the FBS level as Johnson is a transfer from El Camino Community College and Kanuch is a true freshman. If either one can step up between now and the beginning of the season, it would likely put Manumaleuna back at defensive end replacing Peck.
Everyone on that defensive line will have to step up if BYU wants to hold on to its No. 3 ranking in total defense. Furthermore, this defensive line will have to contain the likes of Texas, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
While the Cougars will miss Ansah and Fuga, BYU's defensive line should dominate once again up front.
Lafe Peavler is a national college football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow me on Twitter @MasterPeavler
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