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BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall continued to ease his players into contact on Saturday, conducting a third consecutive camp practice without pads, on a day when shoulder pads were permissible for the first time.
The two-hour practice was the first morning session of the preseason, held on a warm morning with no wind. On limiting contact with the no-pads approach on what has previously always been a days for "shells" (helmets and shoulder pads), Mendenhall said the team is "continuing to work on the pace that we're working on without pads, and I wanted to see one more day of it."
"We're getting a lot done," said Mendenhall, "and so I thought it would be a good way to start. Rest through the weekend, and then keep increasing intensity, as camp is more of a marathon than a sprint."
Mendenhall appears to be adopting a more vigilant attitude toward the physical toll camp can take on a team. Whether a reaction to the August injuries in the past or an implementation of methods endorsed by new partners in BYU's strength, nutrition and training program, the balance between volume of work and team-wide health is certainly being emphasized in visible ways.
For a third consecutive day, offensive stats were moot, as any and all 11-on-11 plays are being run for execution, not ball advancement. The defense has been very limited in its ability to make plays, with the focus being on position and knowledge of assignment--the hitting and tacking will wait for another day.
In the practice-ending "team" session, all five quarterbacks saw reps, with no set rotation behind Riley Nelson and James Lark.
It was another day on which the running backs looked spry and stout; I've been impressed by the depth and variety of talent in the backfield.
Mendenhall said that through three days, it's hard to single out too many backs beyond the projected top duo of Michael Alisa and Iona Pritchard.
Asked specifically where redshirt Adam Hine is in the running back mix (as Hine was not mentioned by Mendenhal on Thursday or Friday), the coach said "not sure yet."
"I couldn't name a depth, other than we have a lot of capable players, and they're much like tight ends, kind of different strengths are starting to emerge. So, a little too early to say (about Hine), but (he has) potential."
Speaking of tight ends, I asked Mendenhall about Austin Holt and Richard Wilson, both of whom are practicing in knee braces after ACL repairs last season. Mendenhall said both are "coming along. They don't look 100% yet to me, but coming along."
Tight end Devin Mahina broke a bone in his right hand during practice. He will have surgery tomorrow and is expected out three to five weeks.
DL Russell Tialavea and OL Brock Stringham remained out with ankle sprains.
WR Dallin Cutler had his practice end early with a hamstring injury. His departure and Ross Apo's prescribed practice limitations (shoulder) had Dylan Collie getting some first-team reps at Z receiver. Collie has had a very nice start to his first camp, already putting himself in the special teams mix as a potential returner. Today, he and starting punt return man JD Falsev were the only players back in a very limited punt session.
I'm glad to see that OL Houston Reynolds' shin soreness has not been too debilitating. He was back in the rotation at center on Saturday.
OL Braden Hansen has been showing his versatility, playing second-string tackle, guard and center over the last couple of days. The offensive line unit should end up as a deep and multi-facted group.
WR Cody Hoffman and DB Joe Sampson remained out for a second straight day. After saying he expected both players back today after a "team discipline issue," Mendenhall after practice said the two would be out "at least through Monday--they won't practice through Monday as well," adding that there is "still a little work to do" before either player will be allowed back on the field.
There haven't been too many notable depth chart moves; bumps and bruises, prescribed limitations and other absences always results in day-to-day variations, but for the most part, the marquee players remain where they are projected to be on opening day.
I previously noted Dylan Collie's move into the Z rotation today, and Ryan Freeman has stepped in for an injured Brock Stringham at first-string right guard. The 6'3", 287 lb. Orem High School product did not play in either of the last two seasons due to injury, so this has been a good couple of days for him.
Kudos also to return missionary Remington Peck, who came back ready to play and has been in the two-deep at defensive end.
Similarly, recently-returned Craig Bills has been a fixture in the safety rotation; Mendenhall today said "he looks great; he'll have a significant role for us this year. I'm really impressed with him."
After a Sunday rest day, BYU will return to the practice field on Monday morning at 10:20 for day four of camp. Shoulder pads are permitted before full pads are allowed for the first time next Tuesday. Mendenhall today that the plan is to likely have the team in full pads on that day.
Highlight play of the day: Cody Raymond's diving, across-the-middle reception of a Riley Nelson pass. Raymond can be used as a slot or outside receiver and has demonstrated reliable hands through three days of camp.
Photo courtesy: David Almodova, BYU Athletic Marketing