What you need to know ... The
3-3-5 is gone in favor of a 3-4 defense, and that's a positive
considering the strength of the D is at linebacker. Head man
Bronco Mendenhall is a defensive coach and will look to get far
more production, but there isn't a whole bunch of talent.
Linebacker Cameron Jensen is a playmaker and there are a few
good defensive backs, but this group will have to be prepared to
be in plenty of shootouts.
Tackles: Robert Herbert, 72
Sacks: Jesse Nading, 4
Interceptions: Robert Herbert, 3
Star of the defense: Senior LB Cameron Jensen
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior NT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Kyle Leukenga
Best pro prospect: Jensen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jensen, 2) CB Justin
Robinson, 3) LB Bryan Kehl
Strength of the defense: Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Line
This will be a problem. While there are
several decent prospects, there's no proven pass rush and little to no
experience with the entire front line needing to be replaced. It's not
the typical massive BYU D line even though there's decent beef at the
ends; holding up against the run early on will be a priority.
The key to the unit: A killer pass rusher has to
emerge. BYU generated pressure from all areas last year, but if the
front three isn't getting into the backfield, there will be major
Defensive Line Rating: 5.5
- DE Kyle Luekenga, Soph. - 3 tackles
A good-sized 263-pound end, Leukenga can be like another tackle against
the run. He was a strong high school pass rusher as a linebacker, and
now he bulked up to where he should become a key mainstay to the line
for the next three years. While not totally green after getting a little
bit of work as a freshman, he'll still need some seasoning.
- NT Hala Paongo, Sr. - 9 tackles, 1 TFL
A reserve all regular season, Paungo got the start in the Las Vegas Bowl
where he was all but invisible. He's a quick 280-pound senior who has to
be the rock that was missing over the second half of last year when
Daniel Marquardt was out.
- DE Jan Jorgensen, Fr.
Back after serving a Church mission, the 6-3, 255-pound redshirt
freshman is a strong tackler with good athleticism. Pass rushing will be
his key needing to find a way to generate some consistent pressure.
- DE Brett Denney, Fr.
More of a linebacker than a defensive end, the 250-pound freshman will
see time right off the bat on the left side. He's the brother of NFL
linemen John and Ryan Denney; the Cougars would love him to be as good
as those two were at the collegiate level. With his pass rushing skills,
he might be.
- NT Russell Tialavea, Fr.
A big-time prospect coming out of high school, the 300-pound Tialavea
should be a great interior pass rusher once he figures out what he's
doing. He's a very athletic, very active defender with big-time upside.
- DE Judd Anderton, Jr. - 1 tackle
Anderton needs to become a key reserve using his 269-pound size and
decent quickness to start making plays in the backfield. He hasn't done
much yet outside of special teams, but he'll get his shot at right end
behind Jan Jorgensen.
Easily the strength of the defense, the linebacking corps
should be in for a big year with Cameron Jensen manning one of the
inside spots and several great prospects ready to bust out at the other
three positions. The middle will be more than fine with Markell
Staffieri and Kelly Poppinga combining to take over for Jensen, while
there's good pop on the outside with Chris Bolden and Bryan Kehl certain
to be among the team's top tacklers.
The key to the unit: More big plays in big
situations. This group can hit and will force several turnovers, but it
has to be a rock on third downs and has to be stronger on short-yardage
- Bryan Kehl, Jr. - 30 tackles, 1 broken up pass
Kehl's a very smart, quick player on the outside with more size on the
weakside than Dustin Gabriel. He's a difference maker on special teams,
and now he has to become a disruptive force on the outside. The defense
needs him to become a pass rusher.
- Cameron Jensen, Sr. - 84 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL, 4 broken up
With 187 tackles over the last two seasons, Jensen is more than
experienced enough to be the leader and quarterback of the defense. He's
a very mature players with a year in the JUCO ranks and time on a Church
mission before coming to BYU. While he's always around the ball and a
sure tackler, he needs to be more of a big play performer considering
his experience and skills.
- Markell Staffieri, Jr. - 35 tackles, 2 TFL
A spot starter over the last two years, Staffieri will find a job in the
middle with the defense using four linebackers. He saw time in every
game last year with three starts highlighted by a 12-tackle game against
San Diego State.
- Chris Bolden, Jr.
Ready to roll after redshirting last year, the JUCO transfer is expected
to be a tackling machine on the strongside. He's a tough 230 pounds with
51 solo stops and 82 total tackle in eight games at Riverside CC in
California in 2004. He spent time in the Navy before getting back into
- Dustin Gabriel, Jr. - 55 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1
interception, 2 broken up passes
More of a safety than a linebacker, the 6-1, 201-pound junior will see
plenty of action on the weakside after finishing fourth on the team in
tackles. He's solid in pass coverage and it tough as nails, but he's not
as physical as projected starter Bryan Kehl on he weakside.
- Kelly Poppinga, Jr.
The brother of former BYU star Brady Poppinga and former Utah State
tight end, Casey, Kelly joins the team after making 61 stops in 2004 for
Utah State. He has all the skills with good speed in a 6-2, 237-pound
frame, but he'll have to battle with Markell Staffieri for playing time
in the middle.
Even by Mountain West standards the secondary had a hard
time last year. There's plenty of experience, but this group gives up
way, way too many big plays and could have problems unless the corners
tighten up. Justin Robinson if fast, but small, while Kayle Buchanan is
big, but not fast. These two have to up their games on the outside,
while a teeth-rattling hitter has to emerge at safety.
The key to the unit: Don't get bombed on. BYU
opponents averaged 12.5 yards per catch and threw for 25 touchdown
passes. The more the secondary the tighten up, the more shootouts the
Cougars will win.
Secondary Rating: 5.5
- CB Justin Robinson, Sr. - 55 tackles, 1 TFL, 10 broken
The undersized senior came over from the JUCO ranks and ended up being
one of the team's more productive defensive backs. He wasn't always
consistent in coverage, but he made more than his share of plays. He
makes up for his 5-7, 154-pound size with tremendous speed and
toughness; he's a solid open-field tackler.
- FS David Tafuna, Jr. - 19 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The Academic All-Mountain West performer will look to be one of the new
leaders in the secondary after spending last year as a key reserve. He
has the quickness along with good size at 6-1 and 198 pounds. Now he has
to prove he can be a big-play performer.
- KAT Cole Miyahira, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception, 1
broken up pass
Miyahira came over from Antelope Valley JC in California and was a
decent reserve cornerback. He'll move over to safety where he'll play
the Kat position doing a little of everything. While he got the starting
job coming out of spring ball, that could quickly change this fall.
- CB Kayle Buchanan, Jr. - 26 tackles, 1 interception, 4 broken
Despite being banged up last year with a hamstring problem, Buchanon was
still one of the team's top tackling corners getting five starts over
the second half of the season. While he's not a burner, he has good size
and is a sure tackler. At 6-1 and 197 pounds, he handle himself well
against the bigger receivers.
- S Quinn Gooch, 30 tackles, 1 interception, 4 TFL
Squeezed out of the starting mix with the defense going to more of a
3-4-4, Gooch will still be a key veteran in the rotation playing behind
David Tafuna. He was able to return from a knee problem early in his
career to be a good reserve with two starts.
- CB Nate Hutchinson, RFr.
A tall, rangy coverman, the 6-3, 190-pound Hutchinson is a smart,
athletic player who'll be expected to be play a big role behind Kayle
Buchanan at the boundary corner.
Jared McLaughlin is a rock-solid field goal kicker from
inside the 40, while punter Derek McLaughlin (no relation) is a good,
all-conference caliber bomber who has to do more for his net average.
Nathan Meikle is back to return punts, but he has to crank out more than
seven yards a crack. The kickoff return game has to do more than 17.2
yards per try.
The key to the unit: The coverage units were among
the worst in America last year allowing 22.5 yards per kickoff return
and 10.8 yards per punt return. Obviously, this is an area that needs
Special Teams Rating: 7
- PK Jared McLaughlin, Sr. - 14-19 FGs, 46-48 extra
McLaughlin has been decent and was perfect inside 40 yards, but he
missed five field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards and is little to no
threat to connect from 50.
Derek McLaughlin, Sr. - 48 punts, 1,922 yds, 40
yards per kick, 13 inside the 20
One of the league's best punters, McLaughlin has a big leg and isn't bad
at pinning teams deep, but he has to be better at working with the
coverage unit. BYU finished eighth in the league in net punting.