Everyone is already familiar with most of the offense - especially at the skill positions. BYU's defense however is another story. While the D-Line is made up of incumbents, the secondary has some major unknowns. Every year the BYU secondary is criticized for being generally non-athletic and that was particularly apparent late last season against Arizona in the Vegas Bowl. So what has changed since then - is 2009 going to be more of the same? Here's a take on what to expect following a switch of position and some new faces.
This position was vacated by would-be senior Brandon Howard. Howard left the program for personal reasons. Logan has a "non-surgical" broken finger but is expected to play and even start on Saturday in Arlington. Logan was originally committed to San Diego State but had his scholarship offer withdrawn when the school hired Brady Hoke as the Aztecs' new coach. Logan played two seasons at a JC in the Bay Area. He's been listed as tall as 5'9" but BYU has him officially listed a mere 5'6", 176 lbs. The Northern Cal native runs a 4.4 and was an all-conference selection last year.
Due to various injuries and Howard's departure Logan, Buckner and Eason were all fairly even in terms of the depth chart throughout camp. Buckner has been bothered by a hamstring injury and is still supposedly not 100%. He should be ready to play on the 5th however. Buckner is a redshirt freshman and returned missionary from Arizona. He's listed at 5'10" and was reportedly having an excellent fall camp prior to his injury.
Eason is still waiting for the NCAA to determine his eligibility. Mendenhall stated that they're acting as if he won't be available for Oklahoma. Eason committed to the Cougars in June and played one year at Erie Community College in New York.
In summary, Howard was going to be counted on heavily as an experienced senior - and fastest player on the roster. However, the three JUCO transfers will provide more depth to the position than the team has had in years. Right now it remains a toss-up for who will get the most playing time in 2009 - but I'd put my money on Buckner once he returns to full health. Overall the position should be seen as having been upgraded from last year.
**Update** - "Mendenhall announced that cornerback Brian Logan will play Saturday against Oklahoma. Logan suffered a broken finger in practice last Saturday, though originally it was feared that he had broken his hand." - Jeff Call, Deseret News
Bradley is the biggest and most athletic of all the CB's. He was originally a commit to Louisville but came to BYU instead after serving an LDS mission. Bradley played in 12 games last season behind Scott Johnson and recorded 40 tackles. However, Bradley has also battled injuries this summer and is currently just coming back after sitting out with knee tendonitis. If he can stay healthy he has the talent to improve the position from last year.
Aguirre is yet another JUCO transfer and is really challenging Bradley for the staring role. He played the past two seasons at Fullerton College in Southern California where he was a 1st team All-American last year. His 17 interceptions at Fullerton is the school record. If Bradley can't stay healthy Aguirre could start soon for Mendenhall.
Rich was Kellen Fowler's back-up in 2008. He is a transfer from Snow JC and in limited playing time last year had a big interception against UNLV at home and forced a couple of other fumbles. Rich is a hard-hitter, somewhat in the mold of former-Cougar Ben Criddle. There shouldn't be any drop off at this position from last year and hopefully Rich can create some more turnovers.
I like Te'o's talent. He was recruited fairly heavily out of Kahuku High School (Cal, Oregon State, Colorado, Utah) and is a really physical player. There have been concerns about whether he is a good "scheme" DB or whether he'd be better to simply roam and react instinctively. While Te'o might not be the best in terms of deep-route coverage, his strengths are closer to the LOS in underneath routes. If used correctly by Coach Hill I think Te'o could be a valuable asset in 2009. Between Rich and Te'o I expect this position to be improved as well.
Here's the biggest change in the secondary. Johnson was a boundary corner in 2008, and despite missing the last four games due to a groin injury, recorded 59 tackles. Johnson is the lone senior in the secondary and Mendenhall has selected him as captain. He suffered a concussion the day Manase Tonga took the field but otherwise should be ready to play this Saturday. Johnson should be just as good as David Tafuna (All MWC Honorable Mention) was last season. Johnson is a crafty DB and Mendenhall likes him because he plays smart. He might not be as gifted athletically as Tafuna, but the results should be there.
Bills is the best DB recruit the Cougars have signed out of high school in recent memory. Bills is a solid athlete and excels in deep coverage and the open-field. The Timpview product is also tremendous against the run. He'll make it difficult for Mendenhall and Hill to keep him off the field this season. Bills is a legitimate D1 player and unless he leaves on a mission (likely), will start as a sophomore in 2010. The combination of Johnson and Bills should make the FS position greatly improved.
The JUCO transfers Logan, Eason and Aguirre will add athleticism and depth that have been lacked since Mendenhall took over in 2005. Mendenhall has tapped into the same resources that allowed LaVell Edwards to produce some very solid DB's from time to time - bonafide JC athletes. Young players like Buckner, Te'o and Bills should be terrific as well off the bench. In general the secondary had nowhere to go but up following 2008. That should be the case. Whereas last season's CB's were possibly not even D1 caliber, this season they should be at least average in the MWC. Again, the unit as a whole isn't going to blow you away, and we should expect them to get torched by OU, FSU and at least a couple other times this season - but they will be better.