BYU held its second-to-last practice of spring football Wednesday at the team's outdoor fields--the last time the entire squad will use those fields before fall camp opens in August.
Following a day off today ("Pro Day" for last season's NFL hopefuls), Friday's practice will be an "Alumni Day" session at LaVell Edwards Stadium, bringing to an end the Cougars' spring workouts for 2012.
Wednesday's practice concluded with 25 minutes of all-pass "skelly" work, which means no offensive or defensive linemen in the formations. Sometimes called 7 on 7, BYU's skelly is either 6 v. 8 or 6 v. 9; on Wednesday, it was 6 v. 9, with the offensive skill players going against BYU's nickel defense. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall says the team is done with 11-on-11 sessions.
"I've seen enough," Mendenall said Wednesday. "I know enough where we currently are, found some key players maybe in backup roles here or there, and we've shifted as you can see the last two practices to getting ready for player-run practices, which is a three-and-a-half to almost four-month period, which I think is going to give us more benefit than possible risk of injury for a day or two left in spring."
Mendenhall added that "this particular team," will be "prepared the best" of any of his teams, relative to off-season work.
During Wednesday's practice, BYU got nine skelly series in, with the series divided among five quarterbacks. Riley Nelson took snaps on four of the series, with James Lark getting two drives, while Taysom Hill, Ammon Olsen and Alex Kuresa each got one look apiece.
Stats were not kept in skelly, but the QBs combined to complete roughly 30 passes, with three of the series ending with TD tosses. Touchdowns were from Taysom Hill to Skyler Ridley (35-yarder), James Lark to Juice Quezada, and Riley Nelson to Marcus Mathews. Preceding the Mathews score, Nelson hooked up with Cody Raymond on the play of the day: a diving 30-yard grab setting up 1st-and-goal for Nelson and Mathews.
Robbie Buckner intercepted Nelson on his second series, while Cameron Comer picked Kuresa on his one drive.
Iona Pritchard (still recovering from last season's ankle injury) took regular reps in skelly and looked good coming out of the backfield.
There was a new injury to note on Wednesday, with center Blair Tushaus becoming the latest offensive lineman sidelined. Head trainer Kevin Morris said Tushaus tore a meniscus in Monday's practice, and will be out for up to a month after a pending surgery.
Running back Adam Hine sat out Wednesday, and has not practiced since Saturday's scrimmage. Hine left the scrimmage after taking a hit to the head, and Morris said Hine indeed suffered a mild concussion on the play.
Morris said wide receiver Rhen Brown will have an injured hip scoped, and acknowledged that he is worried about Brown's availability for the upcoming season, with a difficult recovery anticipated.
Besides the players out injured, a number of other players were absent Wednesday with class or school assignment conflicts--Cody Hoffman, Alani Fua, Mike Muehlmann and Simote Vea among them.
After sitting out Monday's practice with a slight AC (shoulder) separation, linebacker Uani Unga was back on the field Wednesday.
Following are the Day 14 depth charts; I have made a change, in listing the offensive linemen that participated in most offensive periods, even though all are not cleared for full contact.
The listed linemen, in addition to injured linemen Braden Brown, Blair Tushaus, Brock Stringham and Fono Vakalahi, along with others like Michael Yeck and Solomone Kafu, will comprise the group from which BYU's fall starters will be found.
As always, note that, with the exception of the offensive line as listed above, injured players are not listed in the depth charts. In other words, the projected fall depth chart will look much different from those in spring.
DAY 14 DEPTH CHART - OFFENSE
|Position||1st team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|LT||Braden Hansen/Ryker Mathews|
|C||Houston Reynolds||Manaaki Vaitai|
|RG||Manaaki Vaitai||Ryan Freeman|
|RT||Ryker Mathews/Walter Kahaiali'i|
|TE||Marcus Mathews||Kaneakua Friel||McCoy Hill/Darin Tuttle|
|QB||Riley Nelson||James Lark||Taysom Hill|
|WR-X||Cody Hoffman*||Skyler Ridley||Mike Edmunds/Kurt Henderson|
|WR-Z||Dallin Cutler (also H)||Brett Thompson||Terrenn Houk|
|WR-H||Cody Raymond (also Z)||Rex Morgan|
|RB||Juice Quezada||Paul Lasike|
|RB||Michael Alisa||Iona Pritchard|
DAY 14 DEPTH CHART - DEFENSE
|Position||1st team||2nd Team||3rd Team|
|LE||Eathyn Manumaleuna||Mike Muehlmann*|
|NT||Romney Fuga||Simote Vea*|
|RE||Ian Dulan||Ziggy Ansah|
|SLB||Spencer Hadley (also nickel)||Alani Fua* (also WLB)||Austen Jorgensen/Seth Probert|
|MLB||Uona Kaveinga||Zac Stout||Uani Unga|
|BLB||Tyler Beck||Manoa Pikula||Sean Dyhre|
|WLB||Kevan Bills||Tanner Cox||Lene Lesatele/Connell Hess|
|FC||Robbie Buckner||Cameron Comer/O'Neill Chambers (also BC)|
|Kat||Daniel Sorensen||Chase Pendley||Jray Galea'i|
|FS||Joe Sampson (also nickel)/Mike Hague||Skye Po'vey (also BC)|
|BC||Mike Hague (also FS)||Cameron Comer/Robbie Buckner|
*players who did not practice Wednesday due to class schedule or school assignment conflicts
You will see above that Austen Jorgensen has returned to outside linebacker, after spending all of spring ball at fullback.
Ziggy Ansah is now listed as a defensive end, after spending the first half of spring practices at weakside linebacker. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall (hear his post-practice interview in "Cougar Cuts" above) has said Ansah will be able to play both linebacker and end positions, and on Wednesday, he spoke glowingly about Ansah's potential.
"Oh, man," said Mendenhall. "He's more than a football player. He is talented, and he now understands the game, and is playing two positions, when two years ago, he didn't know how to put on his equipment."
A native of Ghana, Ansah came to the football program from the BYU track team, and Mendenhall says the transition has been so successful that "there might be a chance for him--based on his year, with his size and speed and the way he plays special teams--he might play after college, and he's not even on scholarship."
"It could be a tremendous story, and I don't want the headline to be 'Ziggy Ansah: NFL Player,' but if he continues to do what he's done the past two years, and does that this year, that wouldn't be out of the question."
Mendenhall says Ansah's early difficulty with English betrayed his passion for the game, and that combined with his conditioning struggles led the coach to believe Ansah would never make it as a college football player.
"He just kept showing up every day, and I was wondering why. I never thought he would even make it to fall camp. He did, and then we helped him put his stuff on, and the rest is kind of history. Unlikely, would be an understatement, that I believed he'd be at this point."
Mendenhall was asked if players would once again be voting on team captains after spring practice, as was done in 2011. The coach said "looking back at it, it was a mistake, but I felt it was right at that time."
"Our leadership council has been named, and with 29 seniors, I don't feel the need to anoint or designate leaders at this point as captains," said Mendenhall. "That will happen after fall camp, like we've done the previous six years. I experimented a year ago, thought I was doing the right thing at the right time, for that team, but I didn't like some of the by-products, that I didn't see coming."
Mendenhall said last spring, there were "hurt players, that are very, very good players that have a lot of influence, that the team kind of forgets about," and that those players were overlooked in the team captaincy selection process.
"I underestimated that the players wouldn't take those (injured) guys into account, even though they were significant contributors. It's literally 'out of sight, out of mind' when it comes to practice, and how much that weighed on the voting--I didn't see that coming."
Faces in the crowd: former Cougars Austin Collie and Harvey Unga were observing practice on Wednesday. Collie heads to Indianapolis on the weekend to start the offseason workout routine; he'll return west in June for a series of wide receiver camps.
Unga remains under contract with the Chicago Bears.