It's cliche, no doubt, but football games are won and lost in the trenches. BYU's offensive improvement in 2014 could almost exclusively be pinned on the growth of the offensive line. Even after Taysom Hill's injury, the offense moved the ball and scored at a pretty good clip.
Now, it's the defense's turn. BYU's 2014 defense was one of the worst of the Bronco era, especially against the pass. (I'll be
damned darned if a Bronco Mendenhall defense is ever poor against the run.) While experience and improvement (and hopefully health) will lead to better, more assignment-sound play from the secondary, the pass defense can be exponentially helped by improvement on the defensive line.
In considering what Bronco Mendenhall and defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi have to work with this season, there are two locks for three of the starting roles in the 3-4 defense:
DE: Bronson Kaufusi
Last season saw Kaufusi trying to fill a role that looked like a hybrid of what BYU did with Kyle Van Noy and Ziggy Ansah -- which mainly put Kaufusi lining up as a weakside linebacker, either in traditional formation or at the edge on the line of scrimmage.
The idea was good in theory, but Kaufusi's speed as a defensive end was not quick enough for a linebacker when it came time to pass coverage. Granted, Kaufusi's sacks and tackles for loss were both up from 2013, but the pass defense suffered. Taking away a clearly above-average defensive end and putting him into pass coverage both took away from the pass rush and the defense's route coverage. It just wasn't a good fit.
All signs for 2015 -- coaches answering questions after practice, the official team roster -- have Kaufusi back on the D-line, and the senior is as sure of a lock to start at weakside defensive end as any position on the team other than Hill at quarterback.
Kaufusi and his coaches have been a target for the decision to move him off the line. Let's hope that -- and recovery from nagging injuries -- will lead to a hungry Kaufusi looking for a memorable senior campaign.
NT: Travis Tuiloma
The other top performer in camp who is nearly a lock for a starting role is Travis Tuiloma. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound tackle is primed for a big junior season after returning from his mission prior to the 2014 season. Tuiloma's combination of talent and size was evident as a freshman in 2011, used as a backup nose tackle and inserted in redzone situations when BYU beefed up its interior.
In his return from Samoa, Tuiloma recorded 27 tackles (6 for loss). After a full offseason in the weight room and a new football performance regimen from Frank Wintrich, I expect Tuiloma to be as good a nose tackle as you could ask for in a 3-4 defense.
Beyond those two, Coaches Mendenhall and Kaufusi have moved around the group of guys contending for playing time at each position on the D-line.
The starter for the third spot on the line seems likely to come from any of the seniors Logan Taele, Graham Rowley, or Remington Peck. That group has a leg up due to experience. Peck and Rowley each played in 13 games last season, while Taele appeared in 12 but led that group in tackles with 31.
Junior Tomasi Laulile has been seeing plenty of reps, however, and coaches don't necessarily seem set to start a senior. Laulile appeared in all 13 games last season in a backup role and recorded only eight tackles, but did also record an interception and a fumble recovery.
Of the freshman group, the standout has definitely been Moses Kaumatule, a redshirt returned-missionary freshman. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Bingham High product will definitely be seeing the field, it's just not evident if that will be sooner or later.
The other freshman who has seen a few reps and thrown his hat into the ring is true freshman Tevita Mo'unga.
At nose tackle, however, sophomore Kesni Tausinga seems to have a beat on the backup role. Tausinga appeared in two games last season, recording one tackle and half of a sack after returning from his mission. He's a 6-foot-1, 302-pound player who had a 247 Sports composite rating of 84.32 out of Bingham High School in 2011.
Sophomore Theodore King was moved to offense to play tight end during fall camp, and redshirt freshman Jaterrius Gulley was moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard in the spring.