PROVO — Media viewing opportunities during BYU’s truncated spring football practices were limited in March, but one particular element of the Cougars’ defensive plan for 2020 was evident.

Having tinkered with multiple defensive fronts the past few years — including that 3-8 system of dropping eight players into coverage and rushing just three that maddened a lot of fans — BYU will almost certainly move exclusively to a four-man front in 2020. That means four down linemen on almost every play.

“During spring ball, we practiced a 4-3 the entire time. It was a true 4-3 rather than some of the other 4-3s we have ran in the past,” senior defensive tackle Bracken El-Bakri said last week. “We are going to carry all three of the fronts we have shown in the past for different games and different situations, but for the most part we are playing a four-down front.”

The question is: does BYU have enough quality defensive linemen to employ such a front, especially at the defensive end positions? Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks was a weakness last year, and part of the reason why defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki employed that 3-8 so much.

El-Bakri says they do.

“We’ve got tons of experience and tons of talent on the defensive line this year,” said the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Brighton High product who posted 37 tackles in 11 games in 2019. “We don’t just have a lot of juniors and seniors. We have a lot of juniors and seniors who have played a lot.”

Of course, it is all contingent on having a college football season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. El-Bakri, who missed the last two games of the season, against San Diego State and Hawaii, because of a sprained ligament in his foot, said Friday that “a large number” of his teammates stayed in Provo during the pandemic and have been working out on their own in small groups at local gyms and training facilities.

BYU announced recently that football and basketball players will be allowed to use BYU training facilities beginning June 1.

“From what I’ve heard, a lot of the guys on the team are healthy and have been working hard through all this with the belief that we will start the season on time,” said El-Bakri, who got married on March 27 to BYU discus thrower Sable Lohmeier. “The 15% or 20% of guys who went home (shortly after spring practices were halted on March 12) are making their way back to Provo now.”

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In mid-May, the Deseret News presented its projections for the entire defense’s depth chart when, or if, fall camp begins. The only surefire starter is senior Khyiris Tonga, Tuiaki said in a “Hanging with the Cougs” Zoom meeting a few weeks ago.

“It was evident in the spring that Khyiris is just a difference-maker for us, and getting him back, getting Matt Bushman back, is going to be really huge for our team,” Tuiaki said. “When he is in the game on defense, there is definitely a difference that he makes, and we are really excited about him. He is a big, strong guy that is starting to play with a lot more confidence than before. He really knows who and what he is and is a really difficult kid to block now.”

Tuiaki said Tonga “worked his butt off” to get down to 325 pounds in the spring and coaches would like him to report to camp no heavier than 330 pounds.

“We have some younger, newer defensive ends. We have so many of them that we have more than we can take to camp and into the season. So the competition is high and people are struggling to survive and stay on the team, which is great for competition. That’s what you want.” — BYU defensive tackle Bracken El-Bakri

“First of all, we have a really good team,” Tuiaki said. “I am really, really excited about this team. It is a team that is coming back (hungry). We are almost like an injured player that feels like football has been taken away from them. We are so stoked to get back and do our deal.”

Tuiaki said sophomore Atunaisa Mahe, junior Lorenzo Fauatea, senior walk-on Jeddy Tuiloma and junior Earl Tuito-Mariner are also in the mix for playing time inside.

Having lost one of their top returning pass rushers, Devin Kaufusi, who is transferring to Utah, the Cougars will most likely rely on seniors Zac Dawe and Uriah Leiataua on the outside. Converted fullback Darius McFarland, oft-injured junior Alden Tofa and sophomore walk-on Gabe Summers could also crack the two-deep.

Other possibilities are redshirt freshmen Seleti Fevaleaki, Solofa Funa and Freddy Livai and midyear additions Fisher Jackson and Tyler Batty. Redshirt sophomore Hirkley Latu and former tight end Alema Pilimai also have some potential.

“Fisher Jackson was a defensive end that made a lot of noise in the spring that is probably going to get a lot of time,” Tuiaki said.

El-Bakri said the competition was intense before the COVID-19 scare shut it all down in March.

“We have some younger, newer defensive ends,” he said. “We have so many of them that we have more than we can take to camp and into the season. So the competition is high and people are struggling to survive and stay on the team, which is great for competition. That’s what you want.”

Brigham Young Cougars defensive linemen Lorenzo Fauatea (55) and Zac Dawe (99) sack Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) during the Wisconsin-BYU football game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

BYU’s projected defensive line depth chart in a 4-3 front

Defensive end: 99 Zac Dawe, senior
Backup defensive end: 44 Seleti Fevaleaki, freshman

Defensive tackle: 95 Khyiris Tonga, senior
Backup defensive tackle: 62 Atunaisa Mahe, sophomore

Defensive tackle: 55 Lorenzo Fauatea, junior
Backup defensive tackle: Bracken El-Bakri, senior

Outside (rush) end: 58 Uriah Leiataua, senior
Backup outside rush end: 45 Darius McFarland, sophomore

Others in the mix: Tyler Batty, Solofa Funa, Fisher Jackson, Hirkley Latu, Freddy Livai, Andrew Slack, Gabe Summers, Alden Tofa, Jeddy Tuiloma, Earl Tuoti-Mariner