Amid all the excitement about the NCAA Tournament and filling out our brackets many of us may have overlooked the fact that BYU's spring football started on Monday. There are many storylines to look for and players to watch this spring as the BYU Cougars get ready for their first year as an independent. The team still hasn't donned their pads but that doesn't mean they're not working hard. I'll try to go over some of the storylines, who stood out, and just what's happening overall.
This past season and offseason the Cougars have gone through quite a few coaching changes. Both our offensive and defensive coordinators are different, with the sacking of Jaime Hill and the resigning of Robert Anae. We have new running backs and receivers coaches, Joe Dupaix and Ben Cahoon respectively, and there have been many moves made among the coaching staff; including Bronco Mendenhall taking over the defense and Brandon Doman leading the offense.
These changes have given the team a new, fresh, and energetic feel; which should almost be expected with the youth on this staff. According to Harmon (in the linked article before) Dupaix runs around nearly as much as his running backs. Bronco says he doesn’t think he’s seen Dupaix walk yet. And Cahoon, who recently became the CFL’s all time leading receiver, is virtually anal in his demand for precision. Add Brandon Doman’s enthusiasm and the newfound maturity of last year’s freshman into the mix and this year has a different, and hopefully improved, feel.
"What makes this spring such a unique spring is that I believe we were really gaining momentum as last season was closing. From what I saw today, the team looks like they believe they can be good. Then we have new leadership and new coaches, and a new offensive system, so it just feels like a fresh start. Even though this is the seventh year, it almost feels like beginning again, but from a lot further place than were we started with maybe six years ago." Bronco Mendenhall
This time last year everyone was excited about our early enrollee quarterback recruit, Jake Heaps, and the QB competition between him and Riley Nelson. There were two main factions among fans and media, Team Jake and Team Riley. Each had their upsides and each seemed fairly even during practices. Some days Team Jake wooed the swing voters and some days Team Riley was all the rage. And in the end Coach Bronco Mendenhall couldn’t choose a side.
"This is my team... I feel as confident as can be, as comfortable as can be." Jake Heaps
But this year the QB competition, which was mostly a formality, didn’t last past the first day. Heaps took 70% of the reps and was very impressive. He went 8 of 10 for 64 yards while Nelson was 2 of 3 for 10 yards and James Lark was 3 of 4 for 53 yards. Heaps and Lark also had an interception each. Tuesday Heaps was 6 of 8 for 52 yards with a 19 yard touchdown pass to Devin Mahina; Nelson was 2 of 4 for 16 yards and Lark was 2-4 for 51 yards.
Heaps on how it feels to be the clear-cut starter: "It is great. The way we ended the season last year, it is just a great note to come into the season as the starter and just have control of the offense. It is night and day compared to what last year was like, and it is a lot of fun."
Bronco on the quarterbacks: "[W]hat we intend to do is Jake is the starter going into spring, Riley or others will have to take the job from him from how they perform in spring/fall camp."
Our new offensive coaches, Dupaix, Cahoon, and-for all intents and purposes-Doman, have a new goal for their offense, they want to be efficient, effective, and unpredictable. Dupaix, a hire from Navy, wants the running game to be physical and crafty. This is mostly to tire out the opposing defense. He, as well as Doman, wants to keep the defense guessing, so expect the QB to be under center a lot rather than just out of the shotgun.
The coaches want more crossing routes by receivers and slot backs to force linebackers and safeties to make decisions under pressure. They also want the possibility of a big play every down. Not just on deep passes, but also on runs and bubble passes. They want to be aggressive.
Cahoon brings an almost unheard of precision to the receivers. Bronco calls him "cerebral." Everything is precise, from before the snap to after the play is over. Being a player in the CFL recently, I think he brings a knowledge of the game that could really help our receivers. He can teach them the tangibles as well as help them with the intangibles.
On Monday J.D. Falslev had 2 receptions for 40 yards, Rhen Brown had 2 receptions for 18 yards, and Joshua Quezada also had 2 receptions for16 yards. J.J. DiLuigi and David Foote were duel threats going for 2 receptions for 15 yards and 3 rushes for 10 yards and 2 receptions for 10 yards and 2 rushes for 5 yards respectively. On Tuesday RB Drew Phillips saw his first action gaining 7 yards on 2 carries and 6 yards on 1 reception. J.D. Falslev gained 50 on a reception from James Lark. Devin Mahina had 2 catches for 29 yards and a touchdown and DiLuigi had 7 carries for 35 yards.
Coming out of last season the largest concern for next season was our secondary. We had more starters leaving in our secondary than almost everything else. Team leaders Andrew Rich and Brian Logan are now gone along with Brandon Bradley. But hopefully what we’re lacking in experience is made up by talent and depth.
"We definitely don't have as much experience as we did last year, but we all feel like we can play. We're pushing each other for sure and that's what you want. Everyone wants to play, but it's good that it's competitive because it will make us better as a group." Robbie Buckner
The two primary players vying for the start in place of Logan are Robbie Buckner and redshirt freshman Jordan Johnson, who each had an interception during Monday’s practice. Other players that have shined in the secondary are Preston Hadley, a JC transfer from Snow, Travis Uale and Corby Eason, who were backups last year and will probably start, and Daniel Sorensen, who is fresh off his mission.
"That's probably the biggest question mark on the team, at this point. I really liked what I saw from Preston Hadley, the [Snow] junior college player. He's going to be on the field somewhere. Even after one day, I think that is clear. Travis Uale is back, and then Daniel Sorensen back from his mission. He played quite a bit before. We are really looking for one corner to emerge, and then some backup safeties." Bronco Mendenhall on the secondary
On the line we’re looking very solid. We return most of our starters and many of the players are showing an abundance of promise. Some standouts are Connell Hess, who recorded two sacks yesterday, along with Kyle Van Noy and Grahm Rowley, who each had a sack.
Players That Missed Practice:
First, those due to injury. These players may miss most or all of fall camp as well.
Romney Fuga- Starting Nose Tackle; rehabbing after knee surgery
Jordan Pendleton- Starting Linebacker; rehabbing after shoulder surgery
Richard Wilson- Tight end; rehabbing after shoulder surgery
Corby Eason- Corner back; rehabbing after shoulder surgery
Terence Brown- Starting offensive lineman; rehabbing after shoulder surgery
Matt Reynolds- Starting offensive lineman; rehabbing after shoulder surgery
Walter Kahailii- Starting offensive lineman; had surgery last week after rupturing his pectoral muscle
Braden Hansen- Starting offensive lineman; had surgery on both ankles over holiday break
Also Ross Apo went down Tuesday with an apparent shoulder injury by running into a fence while trying to haul in a long pass. They will evaluate him further before he can return to practice.
Now for those who missed practice for other reasons.
Kory Gaines- Safety; removed from the team for a violation of team rules, he will be back in the fall.
Thomas Bryson- Defensive end; withdrew from school for personal reasons, "good chance" he will be back in the fall.
Collin Keoshain- Linebacker; like Bryson, left program for personal reasons, don’t know if he will be back
Jray Galea’i- Safety; had to work on academics
Zac Stout- Linebacker; violation of team rules will keep him out of the first week of spring practices; will be back next week if his knee feels good
Jadon Wagner- Defensive end; out because of violation of team rules and personal matters, expected to be back in the fall
Jordan Atkinson- Linebacker; our due to academics, hopefully back Monday
Drew Philips- Slotback; also out due to academics
There are some key players missing there but it seems that they all will be back before the season starts.
Mike Hague- switched from RB to DB
Mike Alisa- switched from LB to RB
Mike Muehlmann- switched from TE to DE
Brad Heap- walk-on TE switched to QB
I will try to do these at least twice a week, maybe three times. If I missed anything or if anyone wants to add something feel free to post it in the comments below. Also if you want something addressed that I didn’t cover tell me and I’ll try to get it in next time.
And sorry it’s so long, because this is the first one I had more to cover. I promise the next ones won’t be so lengthy.