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On day four of BYU's preseason practices, QB Riley Nelson was sharp in the session-ending 11-on-11 segment, completing all eight of his passes for 108 yards and a 49-yard touchdown to RB David Foote.
The last of Nelson's eight completions gets an asterisk, as it was deflected (and could have been intercepted) by DE Eathyn Manumaleuna, before landing in the hands of right tackle Braden Brown. But hey, 100% is 100%.
Nelson's reps most approximated actual drives, as the other plays run with backup QBs were set for specific downs and distances, with a frequent rotation of signal-callers. Nelson was essentially allowed to move his team down the field in the limited-contact, no-pads "team" session.
Speaking of which, that makes it four consecutive days in helmets-only to start camp, which is a departure from every other preseason head coach Bronco Mendenhall has run. While the NCAA allows shells (helmets and shoulder pads) from day three onward, BYU will go to day five before putting on shoulder pads. While day five is the first day full pads are allowed, Mendenhall's team will wait until day seven (and the first scrimmage of camp) to put on full gear.
About going a week before a fully-padded practice, Bronco said he is "trying to match what we need to our given team."
Mendenhall maintains that taking a graduated approach to pads and contact will not have any negative effect on tackling ability, once taking players to ground is eventually allowed.
"I don't think it hurts at all," said Mendenall after practice. "You work your feet even more, having to get there and touch an opponent. We have 29 seniors as well--I've seen them for a couple of years, so I'm not as concerned about that. In fact, we're getting more guys to touch the ball carrier than we were in our old format."
"It's an effective non-padded strategy. It'll be similar in shells. I've just gotta decide how many scrimmages we'll have. That will be the real decision."
You can hear Mendenhall's post-practice media session, and Jason Shepherd's interviews with RB Michael Alisa and LB/DE Ziggy Ansah in "Cougar Cuts," above left. You can also hear Jason's conversation with LB Uona Kaveinga in today's edition of "Shep Talk."
Also in "Cougar Cuts" is an interview with running backs coach Joe DuPaix; you'll hear some interesting conversation about BYU's 17-year old freshman RB Jamaal Williams, who is off to a solid start in camp.
It was a third consecutive practice day without projected starters Cody Hoffman (WR) and Joe Sampson (DB); Mendenhall sat them down due to a "team discipline issue" after the opening day of camp, and said they would be out at least through today's practice. Today, he reiterated that the pair would be sidelined "at least through today; I'll make a decision at the end of the day how that looks...you could say 'indefinite, but it's based on when they meet the criteria. We'll see at the end of the day how that looks."
I asked Bronco if he has any long-term concerns for Hoffman and Sampson; "I don't" was his reply.
All of the incoming freshman missed most or all of practice due to the final day of summer classes; they will likely miss Wednesday's practice due to the final exam schedule.
Also missing today from the main practice session was kicker Justin Sorensen, who has made only limited appearances on the field during camp. Recovering from offseason back surgery, Sorensen has not done much of anything through four days. Today was the first day with live placement-kick work, but the kicks were attempted by punter Riley Stephenson and quarterback Taysom Hill (a kicker in high school).
For the record, Stephenson was 2-for-3 on his FG attempts (good from 37 and 42, no good from 39), while Hill was perfect, making a 25-yard FG and a PAT.
BYU did bring in a walk-on punter (Scott Arellano), perhaps with an eye toward needing Stephenson as a placement kicker. Stephenson performed kickoffs in addition to punting in 2010, and was relatively proficient at touchbacks, which were supposed to be Sorensen's specialty. But in 2011, with Sorensen as the main kickoff man, BYU's touchback percentage dropped, from 33% in 2010, to 22% in 2011, when Stephenson was kicking off.
Clearly, Sorensen's 2011 injury woes affected his performance, with Mendenhall citing leg soreness during the season before a back injury was revealed. Sorensen was said to have recovered well, but the coach was circumspect in his assessment of Sorensen's readiness. Today, Mendenhall said Sorensen had an afternoon meeting scheduled with the coach, and "I'm sure it's to address that, to kind of see how he feels." We should have an update on Sorensen's status tomorrow.
Players previously injured were limited and rehabbing today; those players included OL Brock Stringham (sprained ankle) and DL Russell Tialavea (sprained ankle, but more active today). DL Michael Doman, DL Tui Crichton and DL Marques Johnson were also working out on the side, while OL Fono Vakalahi has been out since day two of camp while working his way back from offseason surgery.
WR Dallin Cutler missed another day with a hamstring strain, while TE Devin Mahina watched practice with his right hand in a cast after surgery on Sunday.
LB Zac Stout and OL Manaaki Vaitai were also absent on Monday.
Ziggy Ansah played at defensive end behind Manumaleuna and Ian Dulan today, after spending the first three days of camp at weakside linebacker. Ansah can and will be used at both spots, with some duties as a rush end mirrored as an outside linebacker.
Safety Craig Bills had been flipping between backup Kat and backup free safety; today, he spent the entire day as the no. 1 FS, alongside starting Kat Daniel Sorensen.
CB DeQuan Everett took some first-string snaps today, but Mendenhall said the senior corner should still be considered a "a second-team guy, but he's had a really nice camp so far. He and (TE) Kaneakua (Friel) have both been pleasant surprises."
Stringham's ankle sprain has the offensive line down a potential starter; in his absence, Ryan Freeman has been the no. 1 right guard on each of the last three days, joining R. Mathews, Kafu, Tushaus and B. Brown across the front.
Clearing out the notebook...
QB Taysom Hill went through the first three days of camp in jersey #12; he switched to #4 today.
A scout from the Atlanta Falcons took in today's practice.
Former BYU DB Micah Alba has been a college coach since leaving BYU (most recently at Fresno State), but he is now back on campus as an athletics academic advisor and stopped by practice today.
DB Adam Hogan got an early shower after getting tangled up with WR Ross Apo and bringing Apo to the ground. Defensive players are being coached to keep offensive players on their feet during the no-pads practices. I asked Bronco if it's hard for the defenders to go four straight days without really hitting anyone, and he said "I thought it would be harder. They've done a nice job, but I think maturity is a part of that--they're an older group. It's still way early, but they've handled it well."
Players back to take kicks from the Jugs machine today were JD Falslev, Cody Raymond and Alex Kuresa. Those swim noodles your kids love at the pool? They come in hand as kick return tools. Players wrap the noodle around their back, securing either end between their upper arms and torso. They then have to catch the simulated kick without letting the noodle drop from its locked-in position.
Kuresa, by the way, appears to be developing into a potential all-around option. He is now playing multiple receiver spots, in addition to his kick return reps. He's an impressive athlete.
The Cougars return to the practice field tomorrow for another morning session, scheduled to be the first one in shoulder pads. The first day of two-a-days is Wednesday.
The first scrimmage of camp will be held Thursday morning at LaVell Edwards Stadium; it will start at 10:20, and due to scoreboard construction, fans will only be allowed to sit on the west side of the stands, with parking limited to the west parking lot.
Photos: courtesy David Almodova, BYU Athletic Marketing and Kristin Murphy, Deseret News