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(Images: BYU Photos)
Bronco Mendenhall had said the team would go easy before Saturday's planned scrimmage, and so it was that this morning's public practice session lasted only 14 periods, as opposed to the 18 and 20-period practices BYU has been conducting throughout the first week of camp.
In front of 1100+ fans who showed up on a warm, breezy morning, the Cougars gave the supporters a little bit of everything, from the return of some injured players, to a handful of big plays, to one WWE-style tackle.
First up, let's get to the head count, and report that starting boundary corner Brandon Bradley was back and looking good, running with the ones.
Other injured players who were back and/or increasing their activity were:
LB Grant Nelson (shoulder separation--took part in non-contact sessions)
LB Dan Van Sweden (hip flexor--ran with the "threes")
DL Jordan Richardson (sick--back with the nose tackles today)
S Blake Morgan (hamstring--ran with the "fours")
Also, we had a Terrance Hooks sighting. The Buck linebacker has been out since day two with a hamstring injury, and while he is not expected back for another week or more, he and offensive lineman Houston Reynolds were dressed out and doing some light jogging.
Starting left guard Jason Speredon was hurt late in Thursday's practice, and was not participating today. Bronco Mendenhall says Speredon has a shoulder injury--he had an MRI, but it looks like the re-aggravation of a strain. In Speredon's place, Marco Thorson was the first-string left guard (Thorson is primarily a backup center).
Previously injured players WR Mitch Mathews (ankle), CB Robbie Buckner (hamstring) and CB/S Steven Thomas (knee) were not dressed. OL Matt Reynolds of course remains out (broken hand).
Today's post-practice interviews were with Bronco Mendenhall and BLB Jeff Bell, who is running with the "twos" in Terrance Hooks' absence.
Jeff Bell is the classic "grit" guy. Walk-on (he first tried out under Gary Crowton), career backup, but makes the most of his abilities, with a great attitude.
He also looks a lot like his linebacking colleague Matt Bauman, and has often been called "Matt" for that reason. As the start of my interview makes clear, he may also have a little bit of Matt Damon in him, too. Either way, Bell is a good guy with good BYU bloodlines, and I hope you enjoy getting to know him a bit in today's interview.
Today's "Team" session of practice featured five series:
1) Max Hall: TD pass to Luke Ashworth after a drive highlighted by a long sideline pass completion from Hall to McKay Jacobson (over Corby Eason)--probably the most exciting play of the day, judging by the crowd reaction. Two PAT attempts by Mitch Payne were both good.
2) Brenden Gaskins: three-and-out
3) Max Hall: three-and-out (a scramble throwaway on 3rd down)
4) Riley Nelson: TD run by Mike Hague ended a drive that featured Nelson throwing on the run for Rhen Brown, who made a 30-yard 3rd down reception (very nice throw and play by Nelson!) J.D. Falslev also made a nice catch in front of Lee Aguirre to set up the Hague scamper. Two PAT attempts were good.
5) Max Hall: Chase Hansen recorded a whistle-sack on 3rd down; three-and-out.
The session ended with two field goal attempts from 45 yards. Both Mitch Payne kicks were wide left.
Bronco chose to look at the field-goal glass as "half-full," saying much could be learned by kicking, and missing, in front of a crowd. He said Payne having to "live with" the misses at the end of practice might be a motivator.
The "Team" session included a memorable tackle by linebacker Shawn Doman. As J.J. DiLuigi came through the line on an inside run, Doman met him, and as the whistle blew, lifted him and dumped him to the ground--semi-piledriver style. Any pro wrestler would have been proud.
I'll say again that DiLuigi has looked good in camp. It remains to be seen what kind of impact he will have and what kind of workload he will be given, but he has hung tough through some down times at BYU after a stellar prep career, and I hope his efforts pay off some day.
There was some punt return, and for the first time, kickoff return work in this morning's session.
The primary punt return group has not changed--McKay Jacobson is #1, with J.D. Falslev, O'Neill Chambers and Garrett Nicholson also getting reps.
The primary kickoff return pairing appears to be Jacobson and Chambers, with Bronco addressing that facet of the return game in today's interview. Falslev, Cody Hoffman and Nicholson were also fielding kicks today.
Punter Riley Stephenson made a favorable impression on the fans in attendance. He has great height and hang time on his kicks, and has been relatively consistent in camp. C.J. Santiago seemed to rotate his boomers and his duds pretty evenly, but Stephenson looks be a tad more reliable right now. Time will tell, but the punt game could end up being a bright spot for BYU.
I brought up Falslev to Bronco in our post-practice talk session, and he brightened when discussing the 5'8", 173-pound freshman from Sky View High School. Bronco says "we just love him," and added that he might see playing time this season.
Falslev is playing at the "Z" receiver spot and on both return teams, as noted. He rarely drops a ball, and is a sure-handed returner. He is reminiscent of Nate Meikle, who told me to keep an eye out for #17 when camp began.
"Faces in the Crowd"...
Cameron Jensen, Kayle Buchanon, Jake Heaps, Kyle Van Noy, former BYU hoopster Trent Whiting (headed back to Italy next week to play another season of pro ball)...
I have never seen so few offensive linemen in camp. With the departure of Stetson Tenney, the delayed entry of Jesse Taufi, the injuries to both Reynolds boys and now the injury to Speredon, there are only 11 healthy offensive linemen on the field.
With Robert Anae now calling plays from the second-floor overhang, the balcony was closed to the public for the first time in a few years. The fans were limited to rows of chairs underneath the balcony, in addition to the regular bleacher seating.
BYU will hold a second public practice session this afternoon at 5:00pm, then one final public session next Tuesday morning at 10:00am. Tomorrow's scrimmage at Lavell Edwards Stadium will be closed to the public. Bronco says the exercise will run approximately 70 plays.
The coach reiterated that the plan throughout camp will be to restrict Harvey Unga's reps to "non-live" sessions. That is, he can take part in "thud" (no-full tackle) sessions, but not in any live tackling segments.
Not much movement in the depth chart, which sees day-to-day alterations based primarily on injuries.
(players moving up within the two-deep up from the day before are noted in bold.)
Depth Chart, Day 6:
LT: (Matt Reynolds--injured) Braden Hansen, Terrence Alletto
LG: (Jason Speredon--injured) Marco Thorson (also backup center), Ryan Mulitalo
C: R.J. Willing, Ryan Freeman
RG: Terence Brown, Tui Crichton (due to Houston Reynolds injury)
RT: Nick Alletto, Fono Vakalahi
TE: Dennis Pitta, Andrew George, Braden Brown, Mike Muehlmann
WR (X): O'Neill Chambers, Spencer Hafoka, Rhen Brown, (Mitch Mathews--injured), Cody Hoffman
WR (Z): McKay Jacobson, Luke Ashworth, B.J. Peterson, J.D. Falslev, Brett Thompson
WR Notes: Outside receivers are to be able to play both X and Z. While the pattern run will depend on formation and play call, "X" receivers line up left, while "Z" receivers line up right. For example, a receiver could line up as an "X," but then motion could change formation strength and require the "X" to run the "Z" pattern, and vice versa. Basically, however, "X" lines up left and "Z" lines up right.
WR (H): Matt Marshall, Stephen Covey, Parker Mangum, Matt Edwards
TB: Harvey Unga, J.J. DiLuigi, Malosi Te'o, Mike Hague
FB: (note: Manase Tonga assumes the #1 spot if and when he arrives) Bryan Kariya, Braden Brown (also TE), Anthony Heimuli, Mike Hague
QB: Max Hall, Brenden Gaskins, Riley Nelson
LE: Brett Denney, Matt Putnam, Steven Fisher, Remington Peck
NT: Russell Tialavea, Tevita Hola/Romney Fuga, Jordan Richardson
RE: Jan Jorgensen, Vic So'oto, Matt Peterson, Mason Higham
SLB: Jordan Pendleton, Grant Nelson, Richard Wilson, Jameson Frazier
MLB: Matt Bauman, Brandon Ogletree, Shane Hunter, Jared Richardson
BLB: (Terrance Hooks--out, injury) Shawn Doman, Jeff Bell, Dan Van Sweden, Blake McKenzie
WLB: Coleby Clawson, Jordan Atkinson, Chase Hansen/Jordan Winger
FC: (Robbie Buckner--injured), Corby Eason, Brian Logan, Garrett Nicholson, Trevor Bateman
BC: Brandon Bradley, (Steven Thomas--injured), Lee Aguirre, Landon Jaussi, Trevor Bateman
Kat: Andrew Rich, Shiloah Te'o, Jray Galea'i, Blake Morgan, Carter Mees
Free: Scott Johnson, Craig Bills, Travis Uale, Zeke Mendenhall
FYI, I will not be at today's "open" afternoon session. My next camp report will be after Saturday morning's scrimmage.
It's official--Jonathan Tavernari has made the final 12-man roster for Brazil's Senior Men's National Basketball Team!
JT leaves with the team for Puerto Rico on Saturday. He will spend at least the next three weeks there playing in both a warmup tournament and the Tournament of the Americas (the FIBA tourney that qualifies four teams for next summer's World Championship).
Major congratulations to Tavernari, who beat the odds and made a deep national team as one of that country's rising stars. BYU will surely benefit from his experience and leadership in the college season to come.
Cougar Charles Abouo's Cote d'Ivoire national team is playing in the "Afrobasket" (FIBA Africa Championship) semifinals this afternoon. Update later...