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Dick Harmon: BYU's D-line deeper than last year, but will it be better?

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 1:54 a.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Remington Peck (44) tackles Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee (2) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.  (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Remington Peck (44) tackles Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee (2) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

PROVO — How good will BYU’s D-line be?

Defensive end Remington Peck is optimistic. His coach, Steve Kaufusi, is cautiously hopeful. Just how good BYU’s defensive line turns out to be in 2014 is anybody’s guess.

What one can ascertain from fall camp is the Cougars have more bodies to deploy. They’ll have fresher athletes in rotation and can be flexible in adapting to what offenses throw or run at them.

This is the state of BYU’s defensive line today. It will sorely miss the experience, size and playmaking of Eathyn Manumaleuna. For Kaufusi, having Manumaleuna at nose guard was like holding stock in Caterpillar Inc.

“No question, he’ll be missed,” said Kaufusi. “But that’s the nature of college football, losing great, talented guys and developing others to take their place.”

Quarterback Christian Stewart runs the ball as he is guarded by Graham Rowley during a BYU football scrimmage at BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014.  (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News) Quarterback Christian Stewart runs the ball as he is guarded by Graham Rowley during a BYU football scrimmage at BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

With nose tackles Travis Tuiloma, Marques Johnson and Kesni Tausinga not participating in Saturday’s scrimmage, Kaufusi had Logan Taele, Theodore King and Jaterrius Gulley trade time in the middle.

On the left end, there was Peck and Tomasi Laulile, and on the other end, there was Graham Rowley, Tanner Balderree and Adam Ingersoll.

Peck, who says he’s put on 25 pounds for this season, believes the Cougars will be better on the defensive line than a year ago. He bases this on Kaufusi traveling nine defensive linemen instead of four. He believes the Cougars are nearly three deep at all three positions with guys who can play. “We just need one or two guys to step up,” to complete a solid three-deep, he said.

“The biggest difference will be depth and freshness,” said Peck of the expanded pool.

Versatility? Kaufusi is prepared to give a 3-4 standard look up front with a nose tackle and two defensive ends. That could change to a 4-3 front if needed and nobody can rule out a 5-2 front at times. He’ll play three nose tackles at the same time if a team wants to pound out a ground attack. We’ve already seen BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall use just two defensive linemen in sets that he loads with an extra linebacker, nickel back or both.

Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Marques Johnson (99) tackles Idaho State Bengals running back Xavier Finney (31) for a loss during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, November 16, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Marques Johnson (99) tackles Idaho State Bengals running back Xavier Finney (31) for a loss during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, November 16, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Still, this is a team that does not have the experience or consistency of a Malumaleuna, Romney Fuga or Russell Tialavea, mainstays of the nose guard spot the last decade.

Does Kaufusi have that kind of talent there? We shall see.

“We’re right in the thick of things now, with pads on, seeing the speed of the game, developing stamina and game endurance. We’ve got guys with nicks and bruises who need to heal — so we’re in a process right now,” said Kaufusi.

“Any time you lose a guy like Eathyn, a four-year starter, you’re going to miss him. We don’t have anybody like that right now with his experience and fundamentals. He was a very developed player. What you do is say, ‘Who is next?’ We have guys and we need to see who makes progress the fastest.”

Rattling off a list, led by Tuiloma, Kaufusi believes he has answers at nose guard.

“I’m just excited to have more guys who can help us. Last year we had four or five but mostly four on the defensive line. This year we have at least seven we can count on and some of those are cross-trained to play end, and that will make a difference. A year ago we had two freshmen we thought would help and it didn’t work out that way. You just can’t throw people in there and hope it works.”

On Saturday, a host of potential defensive starters sat out the Cougars' scrimmage, including starting linebackers Bronson Kaufusi and Alani Fua. Still, that unit won the day.

BYU’s defensive front is predicated on three down linemen causing disruption while linebackers make the majority of tackles.

Without NFL draftee Kyle Van Noy, leading tackler Uani ‘Unga or stalwart Spencer Hadley at linebacker, the Cougars will obviously miss some talent and experience in their front seven in 2014.

So far, nobody on campus is jumping off cliffs worrying about it, though.

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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