PROVO — Steve Kaufusi is less nervous than he's ever been as a football coach at BYU.

He's got a sprinkle of gray in his hair, something foreign from the days he played as a Cougar in the early '80s or when he coached the defensive line at the University of Utah. All those experiences aside, this is the first time he can remember having this many defensive linemen this good while receiving a paycheck from BYU.

He remembers times the past six seasons where he'd turn his head and look down the bench for some help and some answers. It was a futile turn of his head and eyeballs.

No more.

Now, he has choices, combinations, flexibility, different body types, speed, multiple talents, fixes, stopgaps, depth for conditioning purposes, ability to stagger playing time with quality or deploy tag-team pass rushers to keep legs fresh. Today, he can absorb a player who goes down with an injury. And he's not starting freshmen.

Can he remember when it's ever been like this?

"No, I can't remember," Kaufusi said on Saturday.

"This is the most I've had. Last year I could count on five or six guys. This year I've maybe got eight or nine guys I can count on going in there."

What does that do?

"It's not so much scheme because we're playing so hard with effort. What it means is I can turn my head to the sideline and I can trust someone because they have shown they can do it. Instead of counting on one noseguard or one defensive end, I can look at two going in and helping with what we're doing."

He's got MWC sack leader Jan Jorgensen and Ian Dulan at ends and Russell Tialavea in the middle. Or he can start Brett Denny or JC All-American Bernard Afutiti at one end and Matt Putnam at the other with Mosese Foketi, Rick Wolfley or Tevita Hola at noseguard. He's got Brock Richardson and Kyle Luekenga in the wings.

It's a whole new world for Kaufusi. Something Bronco Mendenhall calls program maturity. It didn't come crashing down when Matangi Tonga got suspended two years ago and Jordan Richardson and Romney Fuga chose to serve missions.

It's may not kill the Cougars that 2007 recruit Eathyn Manumaleuna, freshman hero of the blocked field goal in the Las Vegas Bowl, is now on a mission and others in that class, Star Lotolelei and David Angilar (not on the roster) have yet to make an impact.

While Dulan, a junior who has started since his freshman year, has been out with a shoulder injury for a week, Kaufusi said Dulan could start or play today if he had to, and he expects Dulan will be ready for Northern Iowa.

"Russell is doing a good job coming off that injury from a year ago. He's faster. He's slowly coming. He's not all the way back but he's not complaining. He'll be ready to go.

Denney is considered a starter and is in the rotation and so is Mo," said Kaufusi.

"Putman has some work to do, but he'll be a solid contributor.

Bernard is really a good player, he'll be fine, he just needs to get in shape and learn the schemes."

Kaufusi said the state of the defensive line is something that has him excited for this season. "Just having some choices if somebody goes down is nice, it's a luxury not to have a huge drop-off."

EXTRA POINTS: Mendenhall will have his first press conference of the season this morning at Legends Grill ... The Cougars will keep the same combination of coaching assignments on the field and in the press box with offensive coaches Lance Reynolds and Brandon Doman in the press box with defensive coaches Barry Lamb and graduate assistant Nick Howell, former head coach at Ben Lomond High School. Reynolds has been working the press box since the days of Norm Chow. "Barry Lamb has a lot of experience and is quick to make adjustments," said Mendenhal.

Season opener

BYU vs. N. Iowa

Saturday, 4:00 p.m. MT

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 1160AM; 102.7 FM

E-MAIL: [email protected]