BYU junior Bronson Kaufusi, who is in the process of adapting to being a linebacker after playing last season as a defensive end, hasn't spent much time in fall football camp actually on the field. A hamstring injury has the Cougars being cautious and limiting his action.
With many players -- even one as athletic as Kaufusi -- the lack of full work time when changing positions could be considered a big concern.
According to BYU outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga, however, that's not the case for Kaufusi.
"I have zero hesitancy that Bronson Kaufusi will not be a dominant outside backer," Poppinga said after practice last week. "There is no question in my mind from spring ball that he won’t be great."
When he heard what Poppinga said, Kaufusi said the vote of confidence meant a lot.
“It’s really comforting,” the junior said. “It gives me a boost of confidence, hearing that. It makes me think about what else I can do to have not just him be confident -- because he’s around me every day -- but to have everyone around me be confident. It makes me want to work harder.”
Of course, Kaufusi’s work has to be more specifically directed due to the hamstring. He explained that he’s pretty confident he’ll be ready to go soon.
“It’s coming along really nicely,” Kaufusi said. “I’ll be ready for that first game. Right now I’m in that process where it’s healing up. I’ve been testing it and it feels great. They’ve been holding me out to make sure I don’t re-injure it and really put me out.”
Some BYU supporters might wonder if Kaufusi will be able to make adequate steps to be ready as an outside linebacker after being so hampered by the injury. Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall, however, said that would only bother him if the hamstring issue lingered into this upcoming week.
“I would start to get on the edge a little bit,” Mendenhall said. “Anything prior (to Wednesday) I’m OK with. Once it starts getting around there, I feel a little bit edgy.”
Until he can get back on the field, however, Kaufusi explained that he’s tried to use the time to improve in understanding coverage schemes, probably the area with the biggest doubts for the junior in his new role.
“I think that is one of the blessings from being injured,” Kaufusi said. “I have never watched more film than I have now, being out. Being able to cover was the question mark but now I feel comfortable, that I know exactly what needs to happen on every single call on the defense. I’m pretty confident in my coverage now.”
He’s not the only one. Poppinga also is quick to emphasize his belief that Kaufusi can handle what will be asked of him when it comes to that part of the defense.
“As the will backer, there is basically one drop that you have to know,” Poppinga said. “It’s a flat drop, so it’s pretty simple. I think a lot of people wonder about seeing Bronson on the field side but he’s not going to be on the field side very much. Right now it’s keeping him on the rush side of the field, which is the weak side for the most part. If he can’t do that, then he’s not a Division I football player.”
If that specific element is taken care of, Kaufusi should be able to use his size and athletic ability to have a huge impact on the Cougar defense.
That’s what Poppinga is banking on, at least.
“He will do things that outside backers in the past haven’t been able to do,” Poppinga said. “And I think he’ll be better in coverage than I initially anticipated. For anyone who is questioning his ability to play outside backer at BYU, he will be dominant if he continues to progress and work on his techniques. There shouldn’t be any worries.”
While his on-the-field impact still remains to be seen, Poppinga added that the junior has already become a key figure in the outside linebacker unit.
“The chemistry is great,” Poppinga said. “We are having fun times in our meetings and getting a lot accomplished. Bronson and Alani are leading the way. With Bronson, his personality is outgoing. He understands the defense, although he hasn’t done it yet. Alani is the one everyone goes to to ask the questions. It’s a good dynamic to have.