Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
PROVO — If BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was keeping score on whether his defense or offense was having a better fall camp thus far, he said the guys doing the tackling would be ahead right now.
"I think they've been relatively consistent throughout the whole camp," Mendenhall said after Thursday's practice.
Defensive coordinator Jaime Hill also likes how the relatively young and inexperienced guys up front are learning their roles and playing hard.
"We're flying around and we're getting a little more athletic as the year is progressing, but we still have a bunch of young guys that don't know where to go all the time. But once they know where to go, they're getting there fast," Hill said.
The defensive bright spots that are receiving praise from Mendenhall include the entire secondary, nose guard Romney Fuga and linebacker Jameson Frazier. Young linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Aveni Leung-Wai have had good camps as well, and Steven Thomas appears to have earned the job at free safety. Strong safety Andrew Rich, as expected, is emerging as the Cougars' defensive leader.
"I think they're coming together, but there's relative youth up front and there are still some mistakes happening there. Our strength is the secondary," Mendenhall said.
In every scrimmage so far, the defense has had several pass deflections and a sack or two against a highly touted offensive line. On Thursday, Fuga and senior lineman Vic So'oto each recorded a sack. So'oto doesn't necessarily feel the defense is having a better camp than the offense. He says the defensive newcomers simply don't have as much adjusting to do as the offensive newcomers.
"It's easier for us to come in right away and say 'run to the ball' and we're going to run to the ball. But I really think things are on an even keel. I just think the offense needs a little more time to figure out who is doing what," So'oto said.
Until the offense does gets its timing, chemistry and role issues settled, however, the defense might have to carry a bigger load.
"Our job is to get in there and get out, and give the offense as many opportunities as we can for it to succeed and to score," So'oto said.
Hill believes the defense is headed in that direction.
"We're not ready for a game yet, but we're progressing that way," he said
ON THE MEND: Five players — Drew Phillips, Matt Santos, Jordan Atkinson, David Foote and Garrett Eskelsen — remained inside Thursday to work on injuries on "muscle beach." At this stage in camp, that's a relatively low number. Mike Muehlmann, Bryan Sampson, Jadon Wagner and Mitch Payne all were back and participating in drills Thursday. Payne, sidelined for a week with an ankle sprain, was successful on his only PAT attempt Thursday. Trainers are limiting his kicks for now, and believe he'll return to full strength in a few days.
THE NUMBERS: The Cougars held only one 11-on-11 team session on Thursday, and there was only one score on four possessions. Junior QB Riley Nelson was sacked twice, and his only pass attempt was incomplete. Freshman QB Jake Heaps was 7-of-9 for 59 yards. The only score came on a 2-yard dive from JJ DiLuigi, who also caught three passes for 25 yards and rushed twice for 20 yards. His score was set up by an 18-yard run. Luke Ashworth caught a 21-yard pass.
THURSDAY'S HERO: As is tradition in each camp, the Cougars honored another Thursday's hero after Thursday's practice. This week's honoree was Braden Schroder, 10, who is recovering from wounds suffered when he was hit with a shotgun blast while walking with his grandfather in a North Ogden mobile home park in November.
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