“He’s helped us out a lot there since we are so thin at that position,” said defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi regarding Brett Denney’s contribution. “Being able to rotate Brett in as a third defensive end helps our overall play and lets our two starters get occasional breathers, which has really helped them as well.”
“It’s been great being able to contribute more,” said Denney. “I’ve been getting about 20-25 reps a game. Didn’t get many against UCLA, but last game I got 30, so that was nice. I’m just trying to improve and help out wherever I can.”
The name “Denney” is obviously synonymous with great defensive line play at BYU, as Brett Denney is following in the footsteps of his two older brothers Ryan and John Denney, who have both gone on to NFL careers. With his position now secure as a regular contributor, the youngest Denney looks on pace to match the great play provided by his older brothers while they were at BYU.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to get better and hopefully help this team out as much as my brothers did,” said Denney. “It’s just about working hard, concentrating on your technique, and improving every day I’m out here practicing.”
At a glance, Denney seems best suited for a 4-3 system, as he measures in at just over 6 feet 4 inches and 260 pounds. Now that he’s playing in a 3-4 system, Denney came to realize following his mission that he’d have to improve his technique drastically and not rely just on his athleticism like he did in high school.
“In high school you could just pretty much stand up and beat your guy off the edge,” said Denney. “We were taught all the stuff then that we are now, but I didn’t really use it since I could just beat guys off the edge. When I got here I learned pretty quickly that I couldn’t, so I started to really listen to coaches and learn the techniques that would make me successful in this system or any other system.”
“Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals,” said Kaufusi about what it takes to succeed as a defensive end at the Division I level. “It’s nothing fancy. It’s working on our footwork, working on our leverage, on our hands, and to me, that’s where it all starts. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work.”
So Denney bore down and went to work, really concentrating on the techniques Coach Kaufusi taught him.
“It’s been starting since spring,” said Denney regarding his improvement. “I started focusing and started keeping a notebook of what I needed to work on, [and] what I worked on that day, and whatever coaches told me in a meeting, I’d write that down and concentrate on it.”
So what is it specifically that Denney has worked to improve on so he could make a bigger contribution this year?
“Stopping the run,” answered Denney. “I was terrible at it last year, but I’ve really focused on that. Being a bit more little than the other guys, I’ve started to really work on my run-stop. My pass-stop was good, but I’d end up on my back way too much which, isn’t fun.”
Denney noted that his early struggles after his mission sped up his learning process and his concentration on what the coaches were telling him.
“It’s sink or swim now,” said Denney. “If you’re not willing to work and concentrate and do what coaches were telling [you], then you’re going to end up on your back, so that definitely accelerated my learning curve and forced me to get back to fundamentals and actually do the things I’ve been taught to since high school.”
Denney obviously has some great resources in his older brothers, and has taken copious notes from them, as each brother has seen success playing the defensive end position.
“Ryan plays in a 3-4 system at Buffalo, so he’s been a big help,” said Denney. “He has a place here in Alpine over the summer, so he’s always working with me and helping me. For him, it’s simple since he’s so fundamentally sound and it’s hard for him to understand why I just don’t do the fundamentals to be successful, so that’s exactly what I’m doing now.”
Ryan Denney has a similar build and athletic makeup to that of Brett, but was able to play and thrive in the 4-3 defensive system BYU employed while he was in Provo. Now that Ryan has gone on to play a big role in the Buffalo Bills’ 3-4 system, it has become readily apparent to Brett that the techniques are the same no matter what system you’re playing in.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Denney. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in a 4-3, 3-3-5 or 3-4; the techniques are the same, especially for stopping the run. In a 4-3, with the extra tackle help, I think a lot of guys just focus on lining up wide and using their speed to get to the play, but you’ll get killed if you do that in this system, so I think realizing this has helped me sooner than it may have playing in another system.”
With Ian Dulan and Jan Jorgensen as the two starting defensive ends, Denney has taken the third defensive end position, but Coach Kaufusi said he feels as confident with Denney in there now as he does with either of the two starting defensive ends due to the progress he’s made
“Brett has really improved his game,” said Kaufusi. “It’s been nice to see, and I know that when I put him in during any situation that he can get it done like Jan and Ian can, so that’s a great thing as a defensive coach.”
With three sophomore rotating defensive ends, BYU is still very young at the defensive end position. Considering the play they’ve been able to provide collectively, the future looks very bright along the defensive line.
“It’s exciting to realize how much better we’re going to get,” said Denney. “I’m a sophomore, Jan and Ian are sophomores. I think Ian is going on a mission after this year, but me and Jan will have two more years. Knowing how far we’ve come and that we’ll have two more full years to learn and improve our techniques, man, we’re going to be good.”