PROVO — There are a few more positions up for grabs on defense entering the final stretch of fall practices. Coaches are still looking to solidify depth along the defensive front, but the most intense battle looks to be at strong-side linebacker.
Both Spencer Hadley and Alani Fua have been splitting time with the first-team defense on a consistent basis, with both understanding that it’s crunch time for their starting bids.
“It’s fun, but we both know that they’ll be making a final decision here soon,” said Alani Fua. “We know that now how we do when we’re with the first-team determines if we stay out there and we might not be rotating that much if we don’t do well, so it’s getting intense.”
Despite the competition both Fua and Hadley are good friends and want the best for the team.
“We both want one another to do well out there when we’re on the sidelines,” said Fua. “It’s a competition, but it’s a friendly competition and it’s all about helping the defense as much we can.”
Despite who is ultimately named the starter, it’s a good bet that both will play extensively within the defense.
The challenge for the 6-foot-5, 220 Fua, is proving able to play in all gametime situations. His length and mobility make him a good option to defend in the flat and rush the quarterback, but shedding blocks effectively remains a question mark.
“I’m still a little skinny, but I’ve put on some good weight and feel a lot better with my ability to defend the run,” said Fua. “This scrimmage coming up is important for me and I just need to prove to coaches that I can defend the run along with doing things well in pass defense.”
Defensive line depth
The first four defensive linemen look very secure entering the season with Ian Dulan, Romney Fuga, Eathyn Manumaleuna and Russell Tialavea each bringing a load of experience to their respective positions.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall has been very impressed with Tialavea’s play and attitude coming off his mission.
“He looks really good,” said Mendenhall. “He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s agile and he works so much harder than ever did prior to his mission. He’s a good leader, he’s positive in the locker room. He was always a good football player, but now he’s impressive (all-around.)”
Tialavea has shed quite a bit of weight since his mission, but Mendenhall doesn’t see it as a problem.
“His body composition has changed, so he’s leaner and stronger than he was with the other weight he was carrying,” said Mendenhall.
The focus is now to find the fifth and sixth defensive linemen with players like Remington Peck (6-4, 236 Fr.), Mike Muehlmann (6-4, 268 Jr.) and Theodore King (6-3, 252 Fr.) battling for those spots.
-Houston Reynolds was at center with the 1s with Blair Tushaus moved over to right guard.
-Riley Nelson started off team drills strong — hitting Alex Kuresa downfield for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Kuresa was able to get behind Preston Hadley, who had single coverage, for the score. Nelson finished the day going 3-4 for 70 yards.
-James Lark threw one pass that should have been intercepted with Mike Hague picking off the second. Lark threw a pass right into the arms of DeQuan Everett, but Everett dropped the would-be INT. Lark finished with just those two pass attempts.
-Taysom HIll went 3-4 for 68 yards which included a 35-yard touchdown toss to Brett Thompson.
-Both Mitch Mathews and Jamaal Williams sat out team drills due to injury, but both are expected to return to full practice participation shortly.