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BYU Football 2017 Defensive Line Preview: Cougars look to upgrade pass rush

Key returnees and newcomers will look to bolster a lackluster pass rush

Arizona v BYU Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

BYU heads into year two of Kalani Sitake’s and Ilaisa Tuiaki’s 4-3 scheme, hoping to improve a pass rush that ranked 53rd nationally in sacks.

BYU recruited the defensive line harder than any other position group in 2017, and will bring in other reinforcements (hello, Sione Takitaki) in hopes of replicating the success that Sitake had during his tenure at Utah.

Defensive Ends:

  • Sione Takitaki (RS JR) 6’2”, 245 lbs

Coach Kalani Sitake confirmed that Takitaki will be back this fall after not participating in the 2016 season (which in essence turned into a redshirt season). Takitaki played in 6 games during the 2015 season as a pass-rushing OLB in Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-4 scheme. He finished the season with 21 tackles, 7.5 TFL, and 3.5 sacks.

Takitaki’s run-stopping ability is still a question mark, but his pass rushing is no doubt his strength and biggest value to the team. It remains to be seen whether Takitaki will be an every down DE or mainly a pass rushing specialist, but his return to BYU’s defensive line will no doubt bolster BYU’s defense.

  • Corbin Kaufusi (RS JR) 6’9”, 285 lbs

Corbin was a pleasant surprise this past season, as he exceeded expectations in his first year playing college football. He played in all 13 games (starting 5), and had 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 blocked kicks on the year. With his basketball career likely done, Kaufusi can now put all his focus on football.

Expectations are much higher for Corbin during his junior year; Phil Steele appeared on ESPN960 radio on Thursday, and said that Coach Sitake told him that Kaufusi is one of the players he is most excited about. With his bloodlines and huge frame, 2017 could prove to be a breakout year for Corbin.

  • Trajan Pili (RS SO) 6’2”, 245 lbs

Pili played in all 13 games as a freshman, tallying 2.5 sacks and 5 tackles for a loss on the year. Pili was listed in the 2-deep during media day, but he will have to hold off a slew of talented newcomers behind him.

  • Uriah Leiatau (RS FR) 6’4”, 265 lbs

Leiatau was a Stanford commit before ultimately signing with BYU before his mission. Now off a redshirt year, the promising freshman will begin his anticipated BYU career. With a redshirt year and spring ball under his belt, Leiatau will compete to be a fixture in BYU’s two-deep this year and rotate with the other DE’s on the roster.

  • Langi Tuifua (FR) 6’3”, 230 lbs

A member of the 2017 recruiting class, Tuifua was one of the highest rated prospects BYU signed in years. Most consensus 4-star guys that come to BYU get a lot of hype, but Tuifua has largely flown under the radar. Tuifua is still undersized for a Division 1 defensive end, but his pass rushing skills are undeniable. Even if Tuifua doesn’t put on the weight this year, look for him to play in passing situations and wreck havoc in opponents’ backfield.

  • Lorenzo Fauatea (FR) 6’4”, 260 lbs

Another member of the 2017 recruiting class, Fauatea looks physically ready to contribute immediately. His size and versatility may allow him to play multiple positions along the defensive front. Expectations for his BYU career are sky high, and he should make an immediate impact.

Others to watch:

  • Alden Tofa (FR) 6’4”, 260 lbs

Another member of BYU’s 2017 recruiting class, Tofa is another guy that is physically ready to contribute right away. According to Mitch Harper of Cougar Nation, Tofa suffered a leg injury and is expected to redshirt this season.

  • AJ Lolohea (FR) 6’3”, 240 lbs

A Weber State signee before his mission, Lolohea is now at BYU on the defensive line. With all the bodies in front of him, it’s hard to see Lolohea playing much this year.

  • Rhett Sandlin (RS JR) 6’3”, 245 lbs

Sandlin saw action in all 13 games last year as a sophomore. Playing time will likely be sparse for him with all the guys in front of him.

Defensive Tackles:

  • Kesni Tausinga (SR) 6’1”, 300 lbs

Tausinga played in 12 games last year, starting the last 4. He was listed as one of the DT starters at media day, and will be one of the main contributors up front. Tausinga has received a lot of praise from coaches, and will counted on to be a playmaker in the interior of the line.

  • Handsome Tanielu (SR) 6’2”, 310 lbs

Tanielu had a lot of buzz going into last year, as the Snow College transfer chose BYU over Texas, Utah, and a handful of others. Injuries hampered him through much of the year, but he still managed to play in 12 games. Much of the hype has diminished going into this season, but a healthy Tanielu would be a huge boost for BYU’s defense.

  • Tevita Mo’unga (JR) 6’2”, 335 lbs

After playing in all 13 games last season, Mo’unga is expected to be a huge contributor this year. Mo’unga overpowered opponents at times and wrecked havoc in the run game. His ceiling is highest of the first 4 guys listed at the DT spots, so keep an eye on Tevita along the defensive front this year.

  • Merrill Taliauli (JR) 6’2”, 305 lbs

Taliauli started the first 7 games last year before missing the rest of the year with a season-ending injury. He is healthy now, and will be competing to regain his spot along the defensive front. Even if he is not the starter, he will get playing time rotating in the two-deep.

Others to watch:

  • Keanu Saleapaga (FR) 6’6”, 290 lbs

A member of the 2016 recruiting class, Saleapaga chose BYU over the likes of USC and Colorado. After delaying his enrollment, Saleapaga is ready to live up to the hype that he had coming out of high school.

  • Solomone Wolfgramm (JR) 6’6”, 285 lbs

2016 was Wolfgramm’s first year in the program after playing on BYU-Hawaii’s basketball team. Wolfgramm started on the tight end, but ended up on the DL and played in all 13 games, mainly on special teams.

  • Earl Tuioti-Mariner (FR) 6’4”, 260 lbs

After participating in spring ball, Mariner is ready to be contributor at DT this year. Mariner is the cousin of former BYU player Travis Tuiloma.

  • Mo Langi (FR) 6’7”, 410 lbs

FINALLY, the breakdown you’ve all been waiting for. So, what can we expect from the mysterious Tongan giant? Probably not much, to be honest. Langi wasn’t around in time for spring ball, and has never played competitive football in his life. Odds are that he will need at least a couple years to learn the game and nuances of football, but it will be fun to see if one of the biggest (probably THE biggest) player in college football can make an impact during his time at BYU.

Other Player to Watch:

  • Wayne Tei-Kirby (SO) 6’3”, 305 lbs

The Oregon transfer will sit out and redshirt this season before playing in 2018. Kirby played in 9 games for the Ducks, and became a big contributor down the stretch for them in the 2016 season. Expectations are high for Kirby, as he will be expected to be one the DT starters in 2018.