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BYU Cougars expect to field another solid defense this fall

Published: Wednesday, April 30 2014 12:45 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars defense stops Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders running back Reggie Whatley (25) during the first half as the BYU Cougars play Middle Tennessee State in NCAA football Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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PROVO — Many of the names will change on BYU’s defense next season, but as far as coach Bronco Mendenhall is concerned, the results will be similar.

“It will be the next version of our defense,” Mendenhall said, “which will be very strong again.”

The Cougars will be without a handful of star players next fall, including linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Uani Unga and Spencer Hadley, defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, and safety Daniel Sorensen.

Some of their replacements are new, and some are not-so-new. A few are making comebacks after not being able to play last season. Some are switching positions. Some are fresh off LDS Church missions.

Cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Trent Trammell will return after suffering season-ending knee injuries in 2013. Johnson is listed as the starter at field corner on the post-spring depth chart, with Trammell as his backup. Robertson Daniel, who stepped up at field cornerback in their absence last year, is listed as the boundary starting corner.

Zac Stout, who was dismissed from the team after a much-publicized brawl in the fall of 2012, has returned to the program and is listed as the starter at Mike linebacker.

On the defensive line, Graham Rowley, Kesni Tausinga and Travis Tuiloma are back from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and each is expected to be a major contributor in the fall. Bronson Kaufusi has switched from the defensive line to outside linebacker, while Craig Bills will move over from kat safety to free safety, replacing Sorensen.

Mendenhall summed up his evaluation of the defense at the end of spring drills in early April.

“Defensively, I really like what Trenton Trammell has done. He gives us ability as a starter or depth at corner,” Mendenhall said. “Dallin Leavitt did a nice job this spring and he will play either safety and/or nickel for us. I like that. Zac Stout’s return has really helped us at inside ‘backer as well as Austin Heder, kind of emerging and Jherremya (Leuta-Douyere) moving to Buck linebacker. We are solidifying that spot. I loved Graham Rowley and Travis Tuiloma coming back off their missions. Felt similarly about Kensi Tausinga before he got hurt. That will be a nice addition to have back also.”

Outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga is bullish about what the BYU defense can accomplish in 2014.

“Overall, we’re going to be right where we’ve been,” he said. “Those guys now need to own it, and take the season and be the dominant defense we’ve been over the last nine years.”

Skye PoVey and Leavitt are listed as potential starters at free safety. In mid-April, BYU announced that Harvey Jackson would be joining the program. Jackson played 35 games at Nebraska before opting to transfer for his senior season.

Poppinga is looking forward to seeing how good the defensive secondary can be.

“Our DBs are deeper than they’ve ever been, with really good players. Rob Daniel — I mean, he had a really great spring and he’s going to have to prove it — he could be one of the best corners BYU has ever seen,” he said at the end of spring drills. “If Jordan Johnson can come back healthy and play the way he did in 2012, with those two guys and with Trent and getting Craig (Bills) healthy, it’s finding another safety. Dallin Leavitt had a great spring. Skye PoVey is experienced. We’ll see what happens.”

On the defensive line, Rowley is the starter at left end, with Marques Johnson and Tuiloma listed as co-starters at nose tackle. Remington Peck and Tuiloma are also listed as co-starters at right end.

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