BYU football: offensive and defensive line preview

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Ari Davis
Tanner Mangum catches the ball after Tejan Koroma hikes the ball to him in the game against Fresno State in 2016. Koroma played in all 13 games and has been named to multiple award watch lists for 2017. (Ari Davis)

Experience and confidence are the main themes emerging from the BYU football camp as the season approaches.

For the offensive line, having some depth in addition to those traits is a major difference from last year.

“We have more depth than we had a year ago, but a lot of guys are young,” said offensive line coach Mike Empey. “With those guys, you just get better every year with so many reps. Overall, our group is getting more talented from top to bottom, but it’s hard to replace experience.”

Last season, the Cougars lost two starting linemen before the season even started due to injury and academic suspension.

Then, starting right guard Ului Lapuaho left the Utah game with an injury and his replacement — freshman Thomas Shoaf — was injured against Mississippi State later that year.

Empey plans to keep players on the field by rotating them as much as game situations will allow.

“I believe in rotation,” Empey said. “I don’t believe that as an offensive lineman you necessarily get a hot hand or have to stay in there; I think sometimes you do better when you’re fresh.”

Empey added that allowing younger players to get experience now will help when three seniors graduate after the season.

Returning center Tejan Koroma, who played in all 13 games last year, will look to anchor this group.

Koroma was named to watch lists for the Rimington Trophy and Outland Trophy, which are given to the nation’s best center and interior lineman, respectively.

Shoaf, who started in nine games last season, is projected to start at left tackle and Keyan Norman will fill out the left side at guard.

Shoaf was named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America last year while helping BYU average over 200 rushing yards per game.

Joining them with previous starting experience will be Tuni Kanuch at right guard.

With early games against LSU and Wisconsin this fall, the offensive line will need that experience and good technique, according to Empey.

“We have to learn technique or we can’t offset that talent differential,” he said.

Another adaptation the line will have to make is protecting pass-first quarterback Tanner Mangum instead of dual-threat Taysom Hill.

“Teams would pressure us and bring pressure in a way where they’re trying to get (Hill) out of the pocket,” Empey said. “We’ll learn how teams are going to pressure (Mangum), being a pocket guy. The overriding principle of any kind of team where you’re going to pass the ball is we want to maximize as much time as we can for them to make a decision in the pocket.”

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is ready to build on a successful 2016 season with nine returning players.

BYU had the ninth-best rushing defense in the country last season, and four defensive linemen with starting experience are returning.

“The game plan is to stop the run, get into some third and long situations and get after the quarterback,” said defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki.

Tuiaki added that he looks at yards per attempt of the opposing quarterback to see how the defense is doing, instead of individual statistics such as sacks.

“If you can get a quarterback to five yards per attempt, then you’re getting him to move his feet and he’s uncomfortable and the sacks come,” Tuiaki said. “If you can disrupt the quarterback’s timing, then you can win games.”

Similar to the offensive line, Tuiaki plans to rotate linemen to prevent fatigue and injuries.

“You have to play with five or six (defensive) tackles, every single game,” Tuiaki said. “It plays into keeping them healthy for the whole year.”

Last year, BYU played five different players at the defensive end position. The Cougars lost Logan Taele, who played in all 13 games, and will look to underclassmen to fill the gap.

Corbin Kaufusi and Kesni Tausinga led the line with 31 and 16 total tackles last season and Kaufusi added two blocked field goals.

Between the additional practice and incoming players, each line looked poised to anchor its side of the ball this season.

Projected offensive line depth chart

LT

  • Thomas Shoaf, sophomore, 6’5,” 275 pounds
  • JJ Nwigwe, junior, 6’5,” 278

LG

  • Keyan Norman, senior, 6’3,” 305
  • Austin Chambers, freshman, 6’4,” 310
  • LeRoy Sitake-Tanoai, sophomore, 6’4,” 320

C

  • Tejan Koroma, senior, 6’0,” 290
  • Keyan Norman, senior, 6’3,” 305
  • Austin Chambers, freshman, 6’4,” 310

RG

  • Tuni Kanuch, senior, 6’3,” 320
  • Chandon Herring, freshman, 6’7,” 285
  • Addison Pulsipher, sophomore, 6’5,” 280

RT

  • Austin Hoyt, junior, 6’8,” 305
  • Kieffer Longson, freshman, 6’7,” 318

Projected defensive line depth chart

DE

  • Corbin Kaufusi, junior, 6’9,” 285
  • Uriah Leiataua, freshman, 6’4,” 265
  • Cody Savage, junior, 6’6,” 265

NT

  • Merrill Taliauli, junior, 6’2,” 305
  • Tevita Mo’unga, junior, 6’2,” 335
  • Handsome Tanielu, senior, 6’2,” 310

DT

  • Kesni Tausinga, senior, 6’1,” 300
  • Solomone Wolfgramm, junior, 6’5,” 290
  • Earl Tuioti-Mariner, freshman, 6’4,” 260

OE

  • Sione Takitaki, junior, 6’2,” 245
  • Trajan Pili, sophomore, 6’2,” 245
  • Rhett Sandlin, junior, 6’3,” 245
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