I sat down with BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall a short time ago for an one-on-one interview during which we focused on who he calls the four most important players on his team: the middle linebacker, the free safety, the center and quarterback.
This season, all four positions will be manned by new starters, and that is why he says this camp will be unlike any of the others over which he has presided in Provo.
For fans wanting to zero in on how their team is progressing in camp, look no further than the progress being made at those four key positions.
Of course, the QB spot is getting most of the attention, and Bronco has some very interesting things to say about that position battle, but our interview starts with free safety, and we work our way up to the signal-caller.
You can hear his entire interview by clicking on the "one-on-one" link in "Cougar Cuts" to the right.
For the purposes of this write-up, let's get right to the QB position. Here's what Bronco had to say, in the consummate 'clip-n-save,' on having to wait into and possibly through camp to name a starting QB:
"In this case, with youth (at QB) and not enough linemen to have orchestrated spring to where we could make an evaluation that got us to a point of identifying a key starter, now it will come down to 'will fall camp be enough?' and most likely that answer will be 'no,' the more I think about it."
"Would I like that to be the case?: yes. Would I like to have a starter named going into week one?: yes. Would that be ideal?: yes. What I am preparing everyone for is if that's not the case, if fall camp is not enough to clearly have one player that has emerged above the rest, then we might play with multiple players through a number of games in the year--so I'm not opposed to that, and I'm leaving that option open. Whether it is agreed with or not, I really don't care much about that."
"I want the player that we name to be the quarterback to be the best player to lead this team to reach its potential, and I'll make that decision as soon as possible. But if it takes into the season, it will go into the season."
I asked Bronco if the QBs should take his stance as a challenge to force his hand; to get a starter named before the season opener. His response:
"If I were one of the (QBs) I would take it just like that. Really it is in their hands; the decision is dictated by them, not me. As soon as a player produces with consistency and leadership over time to where he clearly is the starter, then he'll be named the starter. If it's close then he has allowed it to be close."
"I'll allow it to be close as long as they allow it to be close. Our team...if we have to follow two players, we'll follow two. We'll follow as many as it takes to lead this team to its potential, rather than rush the decision and guess if it's going to be this player or not."
Asked how many days of consistent play it might take for one QB to emerge, Bronco said:
"It could be a week. If a player is clearly dominant and has used his time so well that he has separated himself, it could be a week. Or it could be six weeks; that will be controlled by their play. My job is to help control the environment, the reps and the situations, the exposure necessary for each player to show what he can do.
"What I would really love to happen is 'it's not close' between any of our coaches or players, to say 'who is the quarterback?' That might be idealistic, but if you were saying how I want it to be, that's how I want it to be."
Bronco also reiterated his belief that the only reason BYU would not be a good fit for certain conferences is if those conferences did not want a faith-based institution as a conference partner.
"We don't intend to change; my job is to continue to uphold the values, beliefs and ideals of the school and the institution, and to win football games to help others understand those (values, beliefs and ideals). And if someone wants that, then great--if they don't, then we'll stand alone or stand as part of the Mountain West Conference in the meantime."
Back to the "core players" that Bronco referenced to start our interview, and the three key positions other than quarterback--
Steven Thomas is the de facto starter, but is stronger as a decision-maker than a play-maker. Starting Kat Andrew Rich could be moved over, but only if Jray Galea'i or Travis Uale has played so well at Kat that Rich could slide over and not leave the Kat position exposed. Bronco says he has "a lot of options."
Bronco says Austen Jorgensen (who did not play in spring) has emerged and looks like "the most skilled at that spot," according to players working out with Jorgensen. If Uona Kaveinga becomes eligible, he gives BYU four veteran linebackers for the Mike and Buck spots, joining Brandon Ogletree and Shane Hunter.
Bronco says that according to the players, LB Aveni Leung-Wai (Buck) has slipped in his performance and now "worries" some of the upperclassmen.
Terence Brown and Houston Reynolds are the top two at the position, with Brown holding the edge in "experience, demeanor and presence," but Bronco says Brown struggles with his conditioning.
The coach says Reynolds has the benefit of pedigree, knowledge of the game and the cerebral nature of the position. Bronco says "most likely," it will come down to those two players in the battle to replace R.J. Willing.