BYU was once known for its pass-happy offense that found the end zone a lot. I mean, a lot.
That's anything but the case nowadays.
While the offense has sputtered in recent years, the defense has become one of the best in the country. Bronco Mendenhall's squad has finished high in defensive rankings in the last few seasons, and was third last year. It allowed only 266 yards per game, and although the performance of last year's D was impressive, it'll be hard to match, much less improve on.
Huge pieces will have to be replaced during the offseason, and although Mendenhall has the pieces to do that, the talent level in the linebacker position may face a big decline.
So many people have underestimated the effect that Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga left at inside linebacker last year. Ogletree led the team in tackles in both his junior and senior seasons, and topped the double-digit tackle mark in three games. Although he wasn't invited to the NFL combine, Ogletree signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins.
As for Uona Kaveinga, he may be as big of a loss as 'Tree. He may not have led the Cougar defense in tackles or been a big-play machine, but his presence was definitely felt. A USC transfer, Kaveinga started every game in his two seasons at BYU and forced two fumbles while recovering two. Despite being the "other guy" in last year's dominant linebacker corps, Kaveinga still managed to record 4.5 tackles for loss and signed a FA contract with the Denver Broncos.
BYU returns Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley to anchor the outside linebacker positions, and although I'm enthusiastic about the potential of the inside LBs, there is plenty of room for doubt. Uani 'Unga, an Oregon State transfer, has shown streaks of great play during his junior year, and will return as a starter as a senior.
Tyler Beck, another senior, has not received very much playing time (he saw the field in only four games last year) and registered one tackle. Although he has to be a great player, considering that he won the starting role over Manoa Pikula, a sophomore that played a lot his freshman season, I'm scared that the in-game inexperience that Beck has could be a big problem.
The linebacker position isn't the only defensive spot that could be worrisome; the secondary is shaken up a bit, also. The starters at cornerback, Mike Hague and Jordan Johnson, should be strong, but their backups are still up in the air.
Trent Trammell, a JC transfer who was expected to garner much playing time, ended his season at the start of spring camp with a knee injury. In the post-spring depth chart that BYU released, the second-stringers were listed as Adam Hogan and Jacob Hannemann, two freshmen. It's a big enough problem to trust two freshman to fill in for a starter should the need occur, but it's even more problematic when one may not even put on pads this fall.
Hannemann plays baseball for BYU, and is expected to be taken in the first few rounds of the MLB draft. He faces a huge decision to either play pro baseball or pursue a career in football, and the decision he makes will not only affect him, but also the football program.
The safety position, led by Justin Sorensen and Craig Bills, has a dominant starting duo, but the depth is (once again) to be questioned. There isn't a player in the backup roles that has plenty of game experience and this could be a huge problem. Unless the lack of depth in the secondary positions is addressed, it could lead to big problems.
In all, I think that the defense will be strong because there are plenty of playmakers all over the field for the Cougars. Although the potential is there, I don't think that the D will be as strong as last year's.
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