Last night, BYUtv put a nice bow on BYU's spring football season. As always, it was well-produced and well-done. (Although not much news was given ... eventually, BYU is going to have to give BYUtv a bone and let them break news. Even the 2012 schedule special was upended when BYU posted the official news release online right as the show started.)
Anyway, the event had me thinking over the stories from throughout spring ball, and here's what I have:
Injuries were of course an overriding story from spring practice. Most of the offensive line, several key skill players, and others spent time on the sideline and/or under the knife. The key to this storyline is that at no point did coaches ever seem concerned it would cause the Cougars problem when fall rolls around. Every player is expected to recover just fine. The only problem that I recall was when Brandon Doman voiced concern over the offensive linemen losing conditioning and being a little too fat.
More off-field stuff that my nerdy self can't help but pay attention to: uniform number changes. Joe Sampson switched from #5 to #1. Upon learning this, I hoped out loud that #1 would become a rite of passage on BYU's defense, that whoever dons the uno will have the work ethic and play with the passion that Jordan Pendleton did. Sampson appears to be a kid who can and will do just that.
Alani Fua has worked his way into what should be playing time in the linebacker corp, and he's changed to the #5 that Sampson discarded. The video-game geek in me loves an LB unit with numbers like 3 (Van Noy), 4 (Kaveinga), 5 (Fua), 10 (Stout), etc. Keeping on defense, O'Neill Chambers first wore #62 to open camp. Initially thought by some to be a power-play by Bronco Mendenhall, we learned later that Chambers chose the number himself as an outward expression that he is "just another guy trying to make the team." Has the notorious me-first, trash-talking receiver turned into a humble, hard-working safety? Chambers finally switched to #15 before the close of camp. Ross Apo has also changed from #11 to #1 on offense, and Iona Pritchard was seen sporting #5. I'm definitely okay with two 6-4 receivers bookending the offense with numbers 1 and 2, with a big polynesian fullback as #5.
Quarterbacks are always a story. Riley Nelson is the clear incumbent, getting a full serving of first-team reps in the offseason for the first time in his career. It was said about Nelson that he is a completely different quarterback than he was last season. His moxy, playmaking ability, and running ability is known. If he can add accurate passing (with more crispness) to the repertoire, he could have an outstanding year. We can all hope.
Fellow senior James Lark is the clear #2, while it seems the coaches are hoping to redshirt Taysom Hill. Jason Munns is still in the program, so it seems Hill and Ammon Olsen could both redshirt if needed.
Offensively, Doman said on a couple occasions the biggest difference this year is simplification. He's trimming down what he asked the offense to do last year -- something in which he took the blame for failing Jake Heaps -- and is having Nelson and company work on perfecting a simplified approach. That's the credo of Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen. It even largely worked for Robert Anae, his downfall was just the inability to spice things up when teams like TCU figured him out. So I hope to see big returns from this.
In the backfield, Josh Quezada was said to look much like the Juice people came to know before a hamstring injury and the tragic death of his brother derailed his sophomore campaign. Late in spring, Quezada broke his "media fast" and, in interview, said he was more focused on helping his brothers and sisters get through the tragedy than himself. Chalk 2011 up as a lost season for Quezada, and I don't blame him for one second.
Staying in the backfield, Mendenhall mentioned something that intrigues me. He said Doman has used some two-back sets involving Quezada and Michael Alisa, the two who look certain to get the largest share of carries, that particularly impressed him. Mendenhall said the two both looked quick, and that backfield combo could cause defenses problems.
On defense, a story all spring was the development of "Ziggy" -- Ezekiel Ansah. The large LB/DE is said to be in even better shape and dominating his opposition with his athleticism, and has been switched to LB full time it seems. In last night's BYUtv spring wrapup show, Mendenhall told host Dave McCann that it was long said of Ansah something to the effect of, "If he ever gets football, he could be scary good. Well, he's starting to get football."
The defensive secondary is anticipated to be better. Last night, Mendenhall said the speed and athleticism of this group will "surprise people," something that's never been uttered in Provo since ... ever. Joe Sampson has moved from CB to safety and replaces Travis Uale, while Daniel Sorensen remains at the other safety spot. Preston Hadley is expected to retain his starting CB spot, with Jordan Johnson the apparent replacement for Corby Eason. Mike Hague, O'Neill Chambers, DeQuan Everett, and Jray Galeai return amongst a host of athletic, capable players in the two-deep.
Everything else on defense is expected to be as good as last year. Russell Tialavea and Ian Dulan return from missions to join Romney Fuga and Eathyn Manumaleuna on the front line. Converted tight-end Mike Muehlmann and junior-college transfer Marques Johnson will provide depth to the unit.
My overarching thought on spring ball was that it seemed injuries tamped down the lofty expectations that have permeated BYU practices over the last few years -- which is a good thing. There were some statements of "this team can be really good," which is true, and not different than what many other coaches of other teams say. But acute struggles at times from last season have hopefully focused the team -- the offense especially -- in working hard to prove things on the field.
Last night, Mendenhall said he fully expects this team to be the most in-shape, well-conditioned team headed into fall of his tenure. Again, we can hope. That would be a nice foundation for the 2012 season.