Projecting BYU’s 2020 Defensive/Special Teams Depth Chart
PROVO, Utah – In two of Ilaisa Tuiaki’s first three years as defensive coordinator, he fielded defenses that ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense. Last year was a step back from the production they’ve experienced in the past. The Cougars were 68th in total defense a season ago and were 78th in rush defense.
Let’s take a look at what BYU’s defensive personnel and depth could look like heading into the 2020 season.
No. 1’s: Bracken El-Bakri & Devin Kaufusi
No. 2’s: Alden Tofa & Uriah Leiataua
#BYU DC Ilaisa Tuiaki on Uriah Leiataua: “I think he’s got the tools to be a big-time player.”
— Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper) November 6, 2019
If Kalani Sitake has a bigger presence on the defensive side of the ball in 2020, one thing that Sitake defenses over the years have always created is havoc. BYU’s defensive ends have talent but they were unable to create much pressure against some opponents. Losing JJ Nwigwe was a setback as he was starting to hit his stride at the defensive end spot towards the end of last year.
Players such as El-Bakri and Kaufusi will need to take a step forward if BYU wants to have more havoc from their defensive line this fall.
Nose Guard/Defensive Tackle
No. 1’s: Khyiris Tonga & Lorenzo Fauatea
No. 2’s: Atunaisa Mahe & Gabe Summers
Tonga’s decision to return to BYU was a big one for the Cougars. The former Granger High product was set on bolting for the NFL but had a change of heart after having some long and hard conversations with his parents that led him back to Provo.
— Khyiris Tonga 🇹🇴 (@khyiristonga) January 1, 2020
Now he has the mindset to remain on the field at all times and elevate his NFL Draft stock. Along with him is Lorenzo Fauatea who last year against USC was unblockable against the Trojans. Fauatea had an injury that set him back early last November but now he’s healthy and seems primed and ready for a big junior campaign.
What will be interesting with BYU’s defensive line is whether or not they use a 3-4 scheme or go back to 4-3 where the Cougars began when Sitake and Tuiaki took over in 2016.
No. 1’s: Isaiah Kaufusi & Max Tooley
No. 2’s: Keenan Pili & Ben Bywater
There's no denying the talent of Ah You. He's one of the best in the program at linebacker. Has drawn comparisons to Fred Warner & Kyle Van Noy for how athletic he plays at the position.
— Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper) February 12, 2020
Prior to Chaz Ah You’s arrest for suspicion of DUI, Ah You was penciled in as a projected starter. Now his uncertain status removes him from the two-deep at this time. But as you can see, the Cougars still have talent at OLB. Isaiah Kaufusi heads into his senior season and will be a player that’s looked upon to be a leader of the defense. Max Tooley had some breakout moments a season ago needs to take a leap forward in his game, but is a sideline-to-sideline player that linebackers coach Ed Lamb is very high on.
Keenan Pili and Ben Bywater are two under-the-radar guys who will make contributions this fall as BYU tends to rotate a lot of players within their linebacker unit.
No. 1’s: Kavika Fonua & Payton Wilgar
No. 2’s: Jackson Kaufusi & Pepe Tanuvasa
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) December 13, 2019
Remember last year at this time when the linebackers were a huge question mark? Now that’s not the case. Fonua and Wilgar were significant contributors and had a knack for dropping back into coverage and forcing turnovers in critical stretches of games. Between Fonua, Wilgar, and Jackson Kaufusi, any one of those guys could start. Keep an eye out for Navy transfer Pepe Tanuvasa who redshirted last season. Tanuvasa was a standout on the scout team last year and is receiving a scholarship this year after competing last year as a walk-on.
No. 1’s: Chris Wilcox & D’Angelo Mandell
No. 2’s: Isaiah Herron & Micah Harper
Mannn watch how I come this year. I needa big bag 🤦🏽♂️
— Chris Wilcox (@SuperCFlash) February 16, 2020
Redshirt senior Chris Wilcox appeared in one game last season and in the following week suffered an injury in a non-contact setting during practice. Wilcox is expected to be ready for fall but he’s had a string of unfortunate injuries derail his availability on the field. But it could work out in the long run as Wilcox might be BYU’s best NFL Draft prospect for the class of 2021, even next to Tonga and Bushman. High expectations for Wilcox heading into his final year.
Starting alongside Wilcox will see a lot of competition. D’Angelo Mandell will get the early nod as he has the most experience of the guys returning and then after him is Isaiah Herron. True freshman Micah Harper who joins the program this spring has garnered comparisons to Dayan Ghanwoloku from Kalani Sitake and is someone who could be a two-deep player the moment he arrives on campus.
No. 1’s: Troy Warner & Zayne Anderson
No. 2’s: George Udo & Malik Moore
— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) February 15, 2020
BYU loses Austin Lee who was in the Top 100 players in college football this past season according to PFF. But the Cougars replace the talented Lee with a pair of stars in Troy Warner and Zayne Anderson who earned a sixth-year from the NCAA.
Anderson played in the first two games of the season last year before being ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury. Because of the shoulder injury, Anderson is leaving the outside linebacker spot and going back to safety where he played to begin his BYU career back in 2015.
Troy Warner heads into his redshirt senior season with a lot to prove and has hopes of making it into the NFL if he can stay healthy next year.
1. Jake Oldroyd
2. Ryan Rehkow
3. Cash Peterman
Despite some of his struggles last season, Oldroyd will have the upper-hand on the two newcomers joining the program this season. Ryan Rehkow is enrolled to compete during spring practices and then returned missionary Cash Peterman will join the team as a walk-on this summer.
1. Ryan Rehkow
2. Jake Oldroyd
Rehkow’s specialty is punting the football and to ease up the workload on Oldroyd’s leg, BYU needs Rehkow to be good right away on punts.
1. Hayden Livingston
2. Will Watanabe
1. Britton Hogan
2. Austin Riggs
In true long snapper fashion, BYU has quietly had some excellent snappers the past five years. Between Matt Foley and Mitch Harris, long snapping has not been an issue for the Cougars. Now BYU will have two new guys in Hogan who redshirted last year after returning home from a mission and Austin Riggs who joins the team this summer.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.
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