Though his defense uses a three-man defensive front as its base, it also thrives on its flexibility and unpredictability for opposing offenses.
Considering Mendenhall will be coaching his second year at BYU with essentially the same defensive line personnel he had last season, many assume and expect him to be more diverse in how he employs varying defensive line looks.
With the flexible, highly capable and competent defensive line parts Mendenhall has returning, it's easy to be very optimistic about what we'll likely see up front.
Daniel Marquardt is the most established veteran of the interior line. Marquardt has been a solidifying force inside the past two seasons and that will continue. He played better than Ifo Pili last season, even though Pili started most games. Marquardt should be fully recovered from off-season knee surgery by fall camp.
Marquardt also has arguably the most powerful lower body of any player on the team and is very quick off the snap. He played on the outside on rare occasions last season. I look for Marquardt to be BYU's most dependable interior lineman this season.
The choice is easy: Nebraska transfer Manaia Brown. Dogged all last season with a shoulder injury suffered at the beginning of 2003, Brown was healthy enough in stretches last fall for Cougar fans to see and validate his hype and potential.
The hype: Brown is possibly the most talented defensive lineman BYU has had since Jason Buck and Shawn Knight. Brown finally had off-season surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. If he can play and stay healthy, Brown will likely start sometime this fall, boosting what already should be a dominating front.
Look for defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi and Mendenhall to use Brown as more of a combination defensive tackle/defensive end pass rushing force.
Two of BYU's most touted recruits last year included junior college star Vince Feula and local Utah high school standout Isley Filiaga.
Look for Feula to see a lot of playing time in Kaufusi's rotation and cover for either Marquardt or Brown if they are injured. Marquardt is currently recovering from knee injury. Both Feula and Filiaga are short, which gives them the low-center-of-gravity essential for all good interior linemen.
Filiaga, if he receives the NCAA Clearing House green light, was a summer camp legend and may be the strongest true freshman defensive tackle in the country with a bench press of almost 500 pounds. Both Feula and Filiaga add valuable depth to BYU's interior.
Justin Carlson-Maddux is just the sort of player Mendenhall loves. He is a walk-on that out hustles virtually all other players in practice and does whatever his coach asks of him. Carlson-Maddux adds depth at both the outside and interior defensive positions.
All-American candidate Brady Poppinga is BYU's unquestioned star on defense. Poppinga will be a dominating defensive end again this season, but look for him to line up fairly frequently from an outside linebacking position like he did a lot toward the close of last season.
Poppinga is the team's defensive leader and cheerleader. He does the things Mendenhall places a premium upon in his effort-is-everything defensive scheme. He has the speed of a linebacker and the strength of a defensive end. Look for Poppinga to be all over the field creating havoc wherever possible.
John Denney will likely start opposite Poppinga on the other side of the defensive line. Denney consistently showed great athleticism in various off-season drills run among his teammates. He is considered the best all-around athlete among the defensive ends. Denney had several outstanding games in 2003 and will build upon that this season.
Shaun Nua is extremely blessed physically and has shown flashes of brilliance as a junior two seasons ago. After redshirting last year, Nua has the size and playmaking abilities to become the surprise dominating player this season.
A couple of highly-touted recently returned LDS missionaries join the defensive end lineup this fall in Michael Marquardt, Daniel's younger brother, and Judd Anderton.
When Michael Marquardt signed with BYU out of high school, he was ranked the top recruit the Cougars ever signed at that position up to that time. He had an impressive Blue and White spring game with four quarterback sacks. He will be a sophomore this fall.
Anderton, who left straight for his LDS mission from high school, was also impressive in spring practice.
Though he is listed as a dominating All-American junior college transfer, linebacker Justin Luettgerodt is possibly the Poppinga DE heir apparent. He is a player many compare to Poppinga because of his speed and sure-tackling abilities.
Unfortunately, Luettgerodt sat out of spring practice due to a knee injury, but he could be a significant factor this fall. It's hard to know whether to list Luettgerodt as a defensive end or linebacker. He will almost certainly see playing time at both positions.
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