Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes
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(Images: BYU Photos)
The on-field return of Manase Tonga, a "remarkable" change at backup quarterback, and a safety scare highlight the second-to-last day of two-a-days in Provo.
The "real" #11 (no offense to the "other" #11, Parker Mangum--a great guy, it has to be said) was this morning cleared for admission and in uniform as the Cougars emerged from the lockerroom for a "helmets only," 16-period practice. He was greeted by good-natured applause from teammates, as he joined the running backs for the first time in camp. Tonga will be in a helmet only through Saturday, then in shells Monday and Tuesday, and in full pads next Wednesday.
He may be carrying an extra pound or two, and can't be considered to be in game shape, but he looked like the Manase Tonga of old, no more so than when he took a pass out of the backfield and rumbled/sped downfield for a 30-yard gain in the "two-minute drill" portion of practice.
It was during that segment of practice that we saw the shift behind Max Hall, as Riley Nelson got all of the second-team snaps, ahead of previous second-stringer Brenden Gaskins.
In what Bronco Mendenhall called "one of the most remarkable conversations" he's ever had with a player, Gaskins yesterday volunteered to vacate the #2 spot in the quarterback rotation, effective immediately.
Listen to Bronco's post-practice interview for more about that conversation, and Bronco's "humbling and gratifying" appreciation for Gaskins' unusual gesture. Without over-dramatizing, it was easy to sense what Gaskins' proposal meant to the coach as he recounted it for the assembled media.
Bronco says he's "more impressed with (Gaskins) than maybe any other player (Mendenhall has) coached," because of their conversation.
Starting Kat safety Andrew Rich was carted off the field late in practice with a groin injury; he was replaced by Scott Johnson. Bronco is not sure of the severity, but says it "might be serious, might not."
Through Football Media Relations Director Brett Pyne, trainer Kevin Morris has just updated the injury as "groin tightness."
An additional injury was suffered by backup guard Houston Reynolds. After missing almost a week with a quad strain, Reynolds left the field today with knee tightness (see new blog entry "Injury Update: Torn ACL).
The Gaskins development almost trumps Tonga's return to the team, but both are interesting stories, and the interviews with Bronco and Manase Tonga are today's "must-listen" audio clips in the "Cougar Cuts" box to the upper right.
The Rich injury looked troublesome, but the good news is:
a) Rich is a tough guy, and
b) Scott Johnson knows all of the secondary positions well and can play any of them. For the time, look for Johnson to "probably" assume the #1 Kat spot if Rich is out for any period of time, with Craig Bills surfing the learning curve at #1 Free (he's already seen lots of first-string snaps at that position).
As he was backing up Rich before his move to linebacker, Shiloah Te'o would seem a reasonable replacement for Rich, but Bronco likes what Te'o is doing at Buck LB/Nickel (he blasted through for a whistle sack today), and is not planning to move him back as a Kat at this time. He added that even though he has left his previous position group, should he return to Kat, Te'o would still be ahead of Jray Galea'i--now running second to Rich.
In five "two-minute/last-minute" series, Hall led three, with Nelson under center for the other two.
Those five series, in which the offense got the ball while trailing with a little more or a little less than a minute to play (needing either a touchdown or field goal), went as follows:
#1 (Max Hall): intercepted by Jordan Pendleton for a "pick six" on first down.
#2 (Max Hall): nice drive, marked by the Tonga YAC play, after which Hall threw to TE Braden Brown for a one-yard touchdown toss (offense trailing by six). The Mitch Payne PAT was good.
#3 (Riley Nelson): after stringing a few plays together, the offense had the clock expire on a long Nelson pass to the end zone on the final play of the series.
#4 (Max Hall): trailing by two, Hal led the offense into position for a 24-yard, game-winning Riley Stephenson field goal.
#5 (Riley Nelson): facing a fourth-and-four with :07 seconds to play, a sack of Riley Nelson ended the game for the offense.
Once again in "Team," it was Nelson with the "twos," as once again Gaskins was idle. Hall led series one and three, with Nelson getting series two and four:
#1 (Hall): following a smart drive into scoring territory, the drive bogged down at the 20-yard line, with Hall throwing behind McKay Jacobson on third down and Lee Aguirre picking off the pass.
#2 (Nelson): from midfield, a third-and-15 completion to Malosi Te'o was stopped short of the marker. Preceding the drive-stopper, Nelson had a nifty 15-yard scramble on 3rd-and-5.
#3 (Hall): very sharp drive, including three tight end completions, before Hall found O'Neill Chambers on a screen for the score. Payne PAT was good.
#4 (Nelson): three-and-out.
In today's "live" segments, Max Hall was 16/23 for 220 yds, two TDs and two INTs. Riley Nelson was 7/11 for 65 yards.
One of Tonga's first touches today was a reception coming out of the backfield; the pass was well out in front of him, but he reached out and made a beautiful snag, then accelerated downfield to move the chains. Tonga credited his "new gloves" for the reception, but it was an early reminder why Bronco thought Tonga was BYU's most complete back (running, receiving, blocking, assignments) before he left the program.
Answer: Quarterbacks, Tight Ends, and Kickers.
Question: Which are the three position groups not to have lost a single practice day to injury during camp?
Kudos to the TE group; the quarterbacks are protected, and the kickers only appear for a few plays at a time. But the tight ends are out there every day in the heat, taking hits, making plays and never missing a snap when called upon. Knock on wood, but they've been the most durable players in camp so far.
Speaking of tight ends, while the focus has naturally been on seniors Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, I just get the feeling that redshirt freshman Braden Brown will be heard from this season. He has proven to be extremely dependable--as a blocker, and pass catcher. He's been fun to watch.
I conducted a post-practice interview with GA coach Nick Howell, who as a 29-year old is in his third year at BYU after a six-year career as a Utah high school coach. Observing Coach Howell everyday as he works with the secondary players in particular, I can tell you the Cougars are getting excellent tutoring the defensive backfield.
CBs Brandon Bradley (groin/hamstring) and Robbie Buckner (hamstring) remained out, as did FB Mike Hague (hamstring) and LB Terrance Hooks (hamstring). LB Chase Hansen has also missed the last number of days with a groin strain.
NT Russell Tialavea (shoulder) was back and running with the ones after missing three of the previous four days. Bronco says Tialavea will require sporadic rest while his body adjusts to the wear and tear of camp while playing at a lower weight and with less strength.
DE Jadon Wagner was running with the defensive linemen in drills today--his first day of full participation in camp after missing the first two weeks with mononucleosis.
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 11:
(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
C: R.J. Willing, Fono Vakalhahi
RG: Terence Brown, Tui Crichton
RT: Nick Alletto, Ryan Mulitalo, Andrew Crawford
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: Manase Tonga, Bryan Kariya or Braden Brown (also TE), Anthony Heimuli or (Mike Hague--injured)
QB: Max Hall, Riley Nelson, Brenden Gaskins
LE: Brett Denney, Matt Putnam, Steven Fisher
NT: Russell Tialavea, 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 or Shiloah Te'o, Jeff Bell
WLB: Coleby Clawson, Jordan Atkinson, Masi Tuitama
FC: (Robbie Buckner--injured), Garrett Nicholson, Brian Logan, Corby Eason
BC: (Brandon Bradley--injured) or Lee Aguirre, Landon Jaussi
Kat: Andrew Rich, Shiloah Te'o, Jray Galea'i
Free: Scott Johnson, Craig Bills, Steven Thomas
The Cougars plan to hold a typically shorter practice at 5:00pm this afternoon. The team will scrimmage at the Stadium at 10:00am Saturday morning; it is closed to the public.
Monday represents the final scheduled day of two-a-days.