BYU 2012 Preview: Defensive Line

Despite significant losses from the 2011 season, the Brigham Young Cougars defensive line is one of the deepest positions on the team in 2012. This unit should have no trouble producing even without Hebron Fangupo (Houston Texans), Graham Rowley (mission), and Travis Tuiloma (mission) who combined to produce 54 tackles (10.5 TFL), four pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries. Reloading for 2013 will be more difficult.

The expected starters have tons of experience. Senior Romney Fuga has played in 41 games and made 89 tackles. Senior Ian Dulan has played in 30 games and made 51 tackles. Senior Eathyn Manumaleuna has played in 39 games and made 85 tackles.

Dulan, however, hasn’t played in a game since 2008. He was serving a mission during the 2009 and 2010 seasons and redshirted last year. Dulan had a strong spring, and, thanks to the redshirt, shouldn’t show any signs of mission rust.

It feels like Manumaleuna has been at BYU forever. He rose to fame back way back in 2007 when he blocked a field goal on the final play of the Las Vegas Bowl to preserve the win for BYU. Truth be told, Manumaleuna is just a baby compared to Russell Tialavea. He first stepped foot on campus in 2005—Bronco Mendenhall’s first season as head coach.

Tialavea, a senior, has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He redshirted the 2005 season, and then made significant contributions in 2006, but a knee injury in fall camp 2007 kept him out the entire year. A medical hardship was approved by the NCAA and he was still a sophomore in 2008. Following the 2009 season, Tialavea served his mission. He has been back since the beginning of the calendar year. He should be in shape to contribute this year. Both Fuga and Manumaleuna played immediately following their missions. In the three seasons he played, Tialavea has appeared in 34 games and made 50 tackles.

Jordan Richardson and Simote Vea are the other seniors on the defensive line. Richardson has played in 22 games since 2009 and made 22 tackles. Vea was thought to be done a year ago, but coaches discovered he had one more year of eligibility. He has played in 18 games during the last two years and made six tackles.

Behind these five seniors are ten players who have combined for 4 tackles. Working these players into the two-deep roster and getting them quality game experience is critical this season. These ten d-linemen are an eclectic group comprised of true and redshirt freshmen fresh off missions, a true freshman fresh out of high school, a converted rugby player, a sophomore, a converted tight end, and a junior college transfer.

Cougar fans aren’t very familiar with these names now, but should be by the end of the season:
  • Mike Muehlmann (Jr.), Converted Tight End
  • Marques Johnson (Jr.), Junior College Transfer
  • Ray Forrester (Jr.), Converted Rugby player
  • Justin Blackmore, Sophomore
  • Thoedore King (Fr.), 2012 Signee
  • Tui Crichton (RS-Fr.), Bronson Kaufusi (Fr.), Remington Peck (RS-Fr.)--Return Missionaries 
  • Michael Doman (Fr.), Moses Kaumatule (RS-Fr.)--Other Freshmen
To help ease the burden of preparing three new starters for 2013, maybe Bronco Mendenhall should consider redshirting Manumaleuna. All the other seniors have redshirted. Additionally, the drop off between Manumaleuna and Tialavea is probably a lot less than it will be from Manumaleuna to whoever replaces him next year.

The wild card on the defensive line is Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. Mendenhall jumped on board the “Ziggy has NFL potential” train at the end of spring. Since 2010 fans have been hearing about Ansah’s mind-blowing combination of size and speed, and how he is getting better and better.

Ansah has worked at both defensive line and linebacker. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, he is more than big enough to play on the line. His sprinter speed could make him a potent pass rusher off the edge.

Ansah is a senior this year—it’s now or never. Coaches must get him on the field. There is no good excuse to not give a senior with “NFL potential” a fair chance to show it. Should Ansah be the real deal, that would make it easier to redshirt Manumaleuna.

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