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(Images: BYU Photos)
The Cougars were in full pads this morning on an 18-period single practice day-—the final day of "open practice" at this year's camp. "Open" may also describe the competition for placekicker--more on that below.
700+ fans were on hand as the team went through a workmanlike session without would-be starting cornerbacks Brandon Bradley (groin) and Robbie Buckner (hamstring) on the field. More injury notes to follow...
Also remaining absent was fullback Manase Tonga, who has become the "Brett Favre" of Cougar camp, with the daily "will he or won't he?" drama overshadowing any other developments in the BYU backfield. As for today, "won't he" was the winner.
In the first 11-on-11 segment of practice, the offense was given the ball needing to secure one first down on each series to "ice" the game. In the first two attempts, the offense gained the requisite first down, but the defense got the better of the "O" in series three through five. It bears noting that a "whistle sack" canceled what would have been a Max Hall-to-McKay Jacobson touchdown connection on the third series.
In the practice-ending "Team" portion of practice, the offense failed to get in the end zone on seven series, as follows:
#1 (Max Hall): a third-and-11 pass for O'Neill Chambers fell incomplete, with Chambers not looking for the ball. A 47-yard field Mitch Payne goal attempt was no good--wide right. The miss was his sixth consecutive in "live" portions of practice, which led to Riley Stephenson getting the next field goal attempt. See drive #3 below.
#2 (Brenden Gaskins): a Malosi Te'o fumble on second down is recovered by the defense.
#3 (Max Hall): A nice drive ends on a quick "whistle sack" that wipes out what would otherwise have been a Dennis Pitta TD catch. The resulting 34-yard field goal attempt by Stephenson was good, snapping a string of misses dating back to Monday.
#4 (Riley Nelson): whistle sack on third down; three-and-out.
#5 (Max Hall): After the offense puts together a nice drive, Matt Bauman makes the defensive play of the day with a leaping, falling backward interception of Hall.
#6 (Brenden Gaskins): three-and-out.
#7 (Max Hall): on a 90-second clock with two timeouts and trailing by fewer than three points, the offense drives the length of the field, and sets up a 27-yard game-winning field goal--which Mitch Payne makes to end practice, thus ending his personal string of misfortune. The key play of the drive was a 30-yard Hall-to Hafoka completion on third down.
Bronco Mendenhall says the placekicking job still belongs to Payne by "default," but that there is a real competition for the job now, and Bronco says he is "surprised" by the shaky kicking game thus far in camp.
The coach adds that if it comes down to an "either/or" situation, he will lean toward the player who has made more field goals in games, and that player is Mitch Payne. But for now, he says it's "time to see what (Riley) can do."
As for injuries, RB Mike Hague sat out (hamstring), as did NT Russell Tialavea (shoulder). LB Terrance Hooks (hamstring) is pacing for a Monday return. Bryan Kariya (ankle) participated in some drills, but was kept out of live work.
A noteworthy development today was Garrett Nicholson's ascension at field cornerback. After running third or fourth-string throughout the entire camp, he was running with the "ones" today, leapfrogging both Corby Eason and previous #1 Brian Logan, who had assumed the top spot in Robbie Buckner's absence.
Bronco noted that Nicholson earned the promotion by "going about his business," but the field corner position is nothing if not unsettled, with four players now having taken first-team snaps at that spot during camp.
I asked Coach Mendenhall about true freshman tight end-turned-linebacker Richard Wilson, and Bronco says he could end up as the second-string strongside backer. Wilson is in competition with Grant Nelson for that spot, with Jordan Pendleton having more or less secured the starter's role at SLB.
Coleby Clawson and Jordan Atkinson are the definite 1-2 on the weak side, with Matt Bauman and Brandon Ogletree a solid first and second at MLB. It's at BLB where things could get interesting; Shiloah Te'o is now backing up #1 Shawn Doman, but Terrance Hooks' projected return will put him in competition with Doman for the starting spot, with Te'o potentially returning to Kat safety depending on the outcome of that battle.
Bronco notes that the offense is moving the ball more "rhythmically" as the week progresses, which is forcing the defense to respond at a higher level, and he says he is noting more parity between the two sides as both groups improve their execution.
At the same time, I believe it has been difficult to gauge the offense's true strength without Harvey Unga's full participation. If and when Manase Tonga returns and returns to to game shape, it will be a true revelation to see a backfield featuring both Tonga and Unga, since we haven't seen a single snap featuring that hoped-for starting combination, and only limited live snaps with Unga himself.
During camp, there have been many offensive plays whistled dead as defenders have approached the quarterback--a sensible policy that is all the more sensible considering how many player have been banged up.
Yet, the quarterbacks and receivers often take issue with Bronco Mendenhall's whistle, and at times, the defenders have a beef when the whistle stays in the pocket--especially when Riley Nelson is scrambling.
Either way, the head coach is the ultimate arbiter, as Bronco addresses at the tail end of today's interview. It's good for a chuckle or two...
Today's post-practice interviews are with Bronco and offensive lineman Terence Brown. I'm sure many of you know this, but Brown is the older brother of wide receiver (and Lone Peak product) Rhen Brown. Both hail from Summerville, SC, but the family moved to Cedar Hills after Terence's freshman season at BYU, and Rhen played a single senior season for the Knights.
Terence Brown has been part of a consistent five-man starting unit on the O-line, as represented in the depth chart below. There is very little "live" cross-training going ion up front, with the depth beginning to establish itself after almost two weeks of camp. As noted previously, the return of Matt Reynolds is expected to move either Braden Hansen or Nick Alletto to the sidelines to serve as the "third man in" at tackle.
Here's today's depth chart. As always, note that this is the depth chart for today, reflecting today's personnel deployment. The two-deep is fluid and always subject to change.
Depth Chart, Day 10:
(No more than three-deep unless otherwise noted. Players moving up into or within the two-deep up from the day before are noted in bold.)
LT: (Matt Reynolds--injured) Braden Hansen, Terrence Alletto
LG: Marco Thorson, Ryan Freeman or Braden Hansen
C: R.J. Willing, Fono Vakalhahi or Houston Reynolds
RG: Terence Brown, Houston Reynolds or Tui Crichton
RT: Nick Alletto, Ryan Mulitalo
TE: Dennis Pitta, Andrew George, Braden Brown
WR (X): O'Neill Chambers, Spencer Hafoka, Rhen Brown or Cody Hoffman or Mitch Mathews
WR (Z): McKay Jacobson, Luke Ashworth, B.J. Peterson or J.D. Falslev or 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
TB: Harvey Unga, J.J. DiLuigi, Malosi Te'o or Peni Maka'afi or (Mike Hague-injured)
FB: (note: Manase Tonga assumes the #1 spot if and when he arrives) (Bryan Kariya--injured), Braden Brown (also TE), Anthony Heimuli or (Mike Hague--injured)
QB: Max Hall, Brenden Gaskins, Riley Nelson
LE: Brett Denney, Matt Putnam, Steven Fisher
NT: (Russell Tialavea--injured), Tevita Hola or Romney Fuga
RE: Jan Jorgensen, Vic So'oto, Matt Peterson
(note: RE and LE are inter-changeable)
SLB: Jordan Pendleton, Grant Nelson or Richard Wilson
MLB: Matt Bauman, Brandon Ogletree, Shane Hunter
BLB: (Terrance Hooks--out, injury) Shawn Doman, Shiloah Te'o or Jeff Bell
WLB: Coleby Clawson, Jordan Atkinson, Masi Tuitama
FC: (Robbie Buckner--injured), Garrett Nicholson or Brian Logan, Corby Eason
BC: (Brandon Bradley--injured) or Lee Aguirre, Landon Jaussi
Kat: Andrew Rich, Jray Galea'i or Shiloah Te'o, Carter Mees
Free: Scott Johnson, Craig Bills, Steven Thomas
With the season approaching and game day special teams personnel assignments about to be made, some jersey numbers have been changed.
WR Cody Hoffman from #20 to #80
WR J.D Falslev from #17 to #16 (duplicate with Gaskins)
LB Richard Wilson from #18 to #31 (duplicate with Tyler Holt)
CB Trevor Bateman from #16 to #19 (duplicate with Matt Marshall)
WR Matt Edwards from #80 to #93
WR Parker Mangum from #5 to #11 (duplicate with Tonga)
RB David Foote from #27 to #32 (duplicate with Pitta)
Bronco plans a light day of two-a-days tomorrow, preceding Saturday's scrimmage. He plans a 70-play exercise on the weekend, but says it could be as few as 55 plays (last week's total), or as many as 85, depending on the injury situation.
"Faces in the Crowd"...
Former BYU, University of San Diego and NFL quarterback Todd Mortensen. Todd is a brilliant individual (a four-year recipient of the Gordon B. Hinckley scholarship at BYU), and is currently attending the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.