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Defensive line evolution off to promising start for BYU football

By Jared Lloyd - | Mar 20, 2023

Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

BYU defensive tackles coach Sione Po'uha runs a drill during spring camp in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023.

The end of BYU football practice on Friday was a series of “four-minute” drills. That’s when the Cougar offense gets the ball and attempts to run four minutes off the clock, just like it would if it was ahead in the final minutes of a game.

That puts a lot of pressure on the BYU defensive line to be disruptive and keep the ball carriers from finding holes.

How did Cougar junior defensive lineman Caden Haws think his group did?

“I thought the defense looked great,” Haws said. “We got a bunch of stops and everyone was just doing their jobs. We’re excited.”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said that the effectiveness of the defense in situations like that ones they were focused on on Friday depends on the line.

“Sione Po’uha has done a great job with interior defensive line, working with them on being disruptive and getting in the backfield,” Sitake said. “It all starts with those guys in the inside, but Kelly Poppinga has also done a great job with the defensive ends. When you get that done, it starts up front first and then that makes the job easier for the backers.”

Just like in many aspects of the defense under new coordinator Jay Hill, Cougar defensive linemen are being instructed to act differently than they did in the past.

“It’s way more aggressive,” Haws said. “We’re not two-gapping anymore or anything like that. It’s a lot more gap-sound. We get to fire off the ball and create some havoc. So it’s way different.”

He said getting to be more assertive is “the way that that everybody would rather be playing.”

“We love it,” Haws said. “I feel like we’ve got accustomed to it pretty quick and now it’s just dialing in technique and making everything perfect.”

When he was asked what has been the biggest challenge, he said he feels it hasn’t been that hard to acclimate to the new style.

“I honestly think it makes everything easier,” Haws said. “You still have to know your assignment, but after you know your assignment or where you’re supposed to be, you can just kind of turn your brain off and just react. So you don’t have to think as much.”

He believes that if the defensive front can cause more problems for opposing offenses, it will make a big difference for the entire defense.

“I think it allows for a little bit more complimentary football, which is something our coaches have talked about a lot,” Haws said. “The more pressure we get, the less time they have to cover for. If they know that they only have to cover for a few seconds, they can fight their hearts out and then the play will be over. They’ll get a pick or we’ll get a sack, so it really is complimentary.”

It also is going to put more on the individual players to win their matchups. That is one of the keys to successful football, so the BYU defense needs to have that happen as much as possible.

One of the guys who the Cougars will be banking on is junior defensive end Tyler Batty, who has impressed Sitake already in spring.

“I’ve been really impressed with Tyler,” Sitake said. “He’s done some really good things in spring. He’s just way further ahead than I thought he would be and is starting to really come into his own. I don’t usually talk about individuals but I think he’s a guy that stands out quite a bit.”

Haws said there are a number of guys at the defensive tackle spot in the mix, guys like Atunaisa Mahe, John Nelson, Jackson Cravens and Joshua Singh. The person who is having the biggest impact, according to Haws, is Po’uha.

“Coach is great,” Haws said. “We really love him. He played in the league for a long time. It’s fun to learn from a guy who played the game at our position and did it for a long time really well. He is a great teacher who helps us understand the technique, the fundamentals and the scheme. He’s been a great addition to our room.”


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