BYU Preview 2006 - Defense
Posted Aug 7, 2006

BYU Cougars Preview 2006 - BYU Cougar Defense

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.

Returning Leaders
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 Hala Paongo
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

Defensive 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 problems.
Defensive Line Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 running plays.
Linebacker Rating:

Projected Starters
- 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 passes
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 football.

Top Backups
- 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.

Defensive Backs
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

Projected Starters

- CB Justin Robinson, Sr. - 55 tackles, 1 TFL, 10 broken up passes
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 up passes
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.

Top Backups
- 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.

Special Teams
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 work.
Special Teams Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK Jared McLaughlin, Sr. - 14-19 FGs, 46-48 extra points
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.  
- P
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.

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