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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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