The last day of the first week of BYU's spring football practices had the players donning pads for the first time, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall pronounced his satisfaction with the hard-hitting session, saying "I liked it a lot; it sounded really good."
"It was hard to keep guys on the sidelines, because they want to go in," said Mendenhall. "Guys with slings are trying to go in and hit people."
The hits were not confined to play between the whistles. A handful of after-the-play altercations broke out, which was okay with the coach, who tolerates the extra-curriculars, to a point.
"A minimum of three," said Mendenhall when asked how many fights he expects during the first day in pads. "Anything above that is excessive, anything under that is normal."
"At least there were no coaches (involved) today; that's always a plus, too--the coaches get pretty heated sometimes."
Mendenhall said "(the players) are just so competitive; I love that about our team. With Riley (Nelson) at quarterback, and guys like (Uona) Kaveinga and (Brandon) Ogletree on defense--with them being that close, even before the ball is snapped--just to hear the stuff they're saying to each other, it's kind of escalating before the ball has even been put in play, so it's good."
On his overall assessment of the first week of four practices, Mendenhall said "it was really good; I've loved it."
"I think we have a competitive, physical, good football team," Mendenhall said, "and I think we're on track to have another good season."
The 21-period, nearly 120-minute practice ended with an 11-on-11 session that featured the offense putting together a touchdown drive to end the day.
Playing against mostly backups and third-stringers on defense, QB Riley Nelson directed a 60-yard drive, during which he was 6-for-7 passing for 56 yards and an eight-yard TD toss to wide-open TE Kaneakua Friel. For the session, Nelson was 8-for-10 for 66 yards and the score.
Backup QB James Lark was 3-for-6 for 46 yards and an interception, as LB Alani Fua stepped in front of a targeted tight end, halting a productive drive.
WR Cody Hoffman had two catches for 22 yards, TE Marcus Mathews had three grabs for 16 yards, WR Kurt Henderson had a 23-yard reception, while WR Cody Raymond had a 17-yard catch and Friel recorded the eight-yard end-zoner.
Defensively, LB Ziggy Ansah and DL Mike Muehlmann each accounted for pass bat-downs.
Ansah and Fua figuring in the defensive numbers highlights a position of strength for this year's BYU team: the outside linebacker spot. Even with last year's star backer Kyle Van Noy sitting out spring after shoulder surgery, Mendenhall says the glut of talent at the outside slots is "a good problem to have."
Noting that Van Noy can play either the strong or weak side, Mendenhall said that in the meantime, Ansah "is playing really well (at WLB)...then Spencer and Alani at the other (SLB) spot; we have some options, which is great."
Asked to identify some stand-outs from the first week of practice, Mendenhall once again zeroed in on the backfield tandem of Michael Alisa and Juice Quezada, saying "that looks pretty good. There's a (position) battle going on, but there's also ways to where they both play at once; hard to know which way the ball's going when that happens."
The coach added that an improved running game "is going to be necessary for us to have a fantastic season, not just a good season."
Other names Mendenhall singled out for their week one performance were cornerback Jordan Johnson ("looks really good"), safety/cornerbacks Joe Sampson and Mike Hague, linebacker Manoa Pikula, offensive linemen Brock Stringham and Manaaki Vaitai, running back (and rugby cross-over) Paul Lasike, and quarterback James Lark.
There are a few additional injury notes to tack on to the lengthy report from earlier in the week (commentary from head trainer Kevin Morris)--
CB Robbie Buckner: stomach flu, missed the last two days of practice.
S/CB Mike Hague: practiced after going to the emergency room last night. "Pain in his stomach; did a bunch of tests...came back good--maybe a little gall bladder attack. Cleared to practice...everything was good. At the time, pretty painful."
WR Jordan Smith: knee contusion, day-to-day, missed last two practices.
WR Mitch Mathews: groin strain, day-to-day, missed last two practices.
WR Rhen Brown: hip pain, MRI today. Not cleared to practice. "We'll just see how he progresses."
WR Rex Morgan: "hamstring issue."
CB O'Neill Chambers: hamstring, "he's getting close; day-to-day, maybe next week."
DB Sawyer Powell: same situation as Chambers.
Morris said OL Fono Vakalahi is headed for ankle surgery next week, will make a determination in late summer for fall camp.
DAY FOUR DEPTH CHART - OFFENSE
|Position||1st team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|LT||Solomone Kafu||Corbin Kaufusi|
|LG||Walter Kahaiali'i||Manaaki Vaitai|
|C||Blair Tushaus||Terrance Alletto|
|RG||Brock Stringham||Terrance Motley|
|RT||Michael Yeck||Quinn Lawlor|
|TE||Marcus Mathews||Kaneakua Friel||Darin Tuttle/Trevor Brown|
|QB||Riley Nelson||James Lark||Taysom Hill|
|WR-X||Cody Hoffman||Skyler Ridley||Mike Edmunds|
|WR-Z||Ross Apo||Kurt Henderson||Terrenn Houk|
|WR-H||J.D. Falslev (injured)||Cody Raymond|
|RB||Juice Quezada||Paul Lasike||Adam Hine|
|RB||Michael Alisa||Zed Mendenhall||Austen Jorgensen/Iona Pritchard (not full contact)|
DAY FOUR DEPTH CHART - DEFENSE
|Position||1st team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|LE||Eathyn Manumaleuna||Mike Muehlmann/Michael Doman|
|NT||Romney Fuga||Mike Muehlmann/Simote Vea|
|RE||Ian Dulan||Moses Kaumatule||Michael Doman|
|SLB||Spencer Hadley||Alani Fua||Seth Probert|
|MLB||Uona Kaveinga||Zac Stout||Tyler Beck|
|BLB||Brandon Ogletree||Manoa Pikula||Tyler Beck|
|WLB||Ziggy Ansah||Kevan Bills||Tanner Cox|
|FC||Jordan Johnson||Cameron Comer|
|Kat||Daniel Sorensen||Chase Pendley||Jray Galea'i|
|FS||Joe Sampson (also nickel)||Skye Po'vey|
|BC||Mike Hague (also FS)||DeQuan Everett|
WR Dallin Cutler (#2 WR-Z) was not at practice today
OL Braden Hansen (ankles) was doing some position work; not cleared for contact
Photo courtesy of David Almodova, BYU Director of Athletic Marketing and Promotions