The first of the three returning starters mentioned will be Russell Tialavea (6-3, 300 So.) in the middle at the nose tackle position. Tialavea will be flanked by Jan Jorgensen (6-3, 260 So.) and Ian Dulan (6-1, 275.) Although all three are merely sophomores, they all saw starting reps last season.
While Tialavea and Jorgensen both finished out the season strong, Dulan's season was cut short due to injury after garnering the starting slot as a true freshman. All three are healthy now and are coming off full participation during spring practices, where they all worked to improve their collective skills.
Solidifying the Middle
Players don't come more promising than Russell Tialavea on the Cougar football team. Tialavea took off during the last half of 2006, and through good offseason workouts, he trimmed down. The middle of the Cougar defensive front is solid in regards to starting reps, so long as Tialavea remains healthy.
Unfortunately the nose tackle position is not a position where one player can take every rep throughout a given game. It's a position where a rotation comes into play, as it's as physically demanding as any position on the playing field. Look for Tialavea to get the great majority of reps this coming season, but he'll have to be subbed in and out on occasion.
Who steps up to fill in for Tialavea remains to be battled for this fall. With no ready candidates coming forth this past spring, the backup position at nose tackle is wide open. Several candidates will vie to fill the position and we'll be watching closely these next few weeks.
One of the chief candidates is Mosese Foketi (6-0, 270 Jr.), who has been projected as a defensive end since arriving a season ago, but may be asked to fill the middle position. Other candidates include Mark Fitu (6-0, 310 Fr.), who remains extremely raw in his skill level, and incoming freshmen Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2, 280) and David Angilau (6-2, 270). Angilau, like Foketi, projects as a defensive end, but may be asked to fill the nose tackle position. Meanwhile, Kyle Luekenga (6-3, 278 Jr.) will be unable to participate at the start of fall practices due to injury.
Backing up the Ends
The backups for the two defensive end positions were worked out more this past spring, as there is more experience in the program at the likely two-deep at defensive end. The two-deep will only be further ironed out this coming fall practice session.
The primary backups at the defensive end positions look to be Brett Denney (6-4, 260 So.), who is coming off of an outstanding spring and offseason, and Judd Anderton (6-5, 270 Sr.). Both Denney and Anderton have good experience and have proven to be adequate backups. Anderton has logged limited playing time at nose tackle in the past and could be an option to back up Tialavea at that position if none of the options listed previously pan out.
A couple of intriguing backups include Matt Putnam (6-7, 245 Fr.), who completed spring practices following his mission and looks to improve, and Colorado transfer Steven Fendry (6-6, 232 Fr.). We'll be keeping close eyes on both of these players and their development throughout the fall.
No worries at the starting spots, as they're set with experience and talent heading into the 2007 season. While the backup positions at defensive end look secure, the main story heading into the fall practice session is who will back up Tialavea at nose tackle. If no one steps up and Tialavea goes down with injury at any time during the season, it could prove to be devastating for an otherwise promising defensive unit for 2007.