PROVO — BYU’s annual media day Monday was filled with the typical excitement from Cougar coaches, players and administrators. However, they believe this year’s excitement is more warranted than in years past.
One has to look no further than the Cougar offensive line to get a sense of how poised this year’s team feels it is to make a significant leap in production.
The offensive line was represented Monday by senior offensive tackle De’Ondre Wesley, and his excitement was palpable.
“I feel that this is the year when BYU gets back to where we belong,” Wesley said. “This is the year we make our mark on the world and people will see that because we’re going to come out fiery, we‘re going to come out passionate, and we‘re going to light people up.”
Such bravado was hard to come by last season from an offensive line with almost no collective playing experience and a lot of uncertainty entering the 2013 season. There’s no question the position group took its lumps throughout the year, having to adjust to a new scheme and torrid pace.
With a full year under their belts, BYU's offensive linemen feel acclimated and ready to fill leadership roles.
“Dre (Wesley) is doing a great job of leading these guys. I like his demeanor and how he carries himself,” said offensive line coach Garett Tujague. “Having that year is huge and it’s huge for everyone. He’s really embraced what we do. He’s paid his dues, and he’s someone who has really stepped up.”
Chemistry is huge for any position group, but maybe more so for the offensive line. Through last year’s hard knocks and continued work through spring practices and into the offseason, Wesley feels that chemistry has developed to the point where the position group is ready to lead.
“It starts with us, and as we go the offense goes,” he said. “We’re ready, and I can’t wait to get it going. Get your tickets now because it‘s going to be a good show.”
On the defensive side, it’s more about maintaining the established mentality while plugging different players into key positions. A position receiving focus is safety, where defensive coordinator Nick Howell hopes someone will emerge during fall camp to play alongside returning starter Craig Bills.
“It’s to be determined whether he plays kat or free safety, but that will work itself out,” Howell said. “We’re looking to play our best four guys. Whoever proves to be the best combination will be what we’ll play.”
Coaches tried out Robertson Daniel at safety last spring, but Howell indicated strongly he plans to keep Daniel at cornerback, the position where he started last season.
Others in the mix at safety include Skye PoVey, Dallin Leavitt, Kai Nacua, Nebraska transfer Harvey Jackson and true freshman Kavika Fonua.
As far as defensive leadership goes, assumed starting inside linebacker Manoa Pikula appears poised to take some of the mantle.
“He’s really embraced the role of a leader and has had great people to show him how to do it. He’s ready,” said inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell. “Manoa just loves football, as much as any player I’ve coached, and that’s what drives him. It’s great to see a player like him accept the role and take to it as well as he has. I expect that to continue.”
Pikula feels confident this year’s defense can not only match last year’s production, but improve on it.
“I love our guys, I love our effort, and I love how everyone works and how we’re completely unselfish,” Pikula said. “We have some tough guys to replace, but the attitude, the work ethic — we’re going to be good. We’re going to show people something, no doubt.”