PROVO — BYU's Bronco Mendenhall got into coaching because he enjoys being involved with players on the practice field and teaching them skills that will help them be successful.
When he relinquished the defensive coordinator responsibilities a few years ago and focused on being a head coach, he missed that aspect of his job. Mendenhall reprised that defensive coordinator role midway through last season after firing Jaime Hill.
Heading into the 2011 season, Mendenhall is looking forward to a full campaign serving as the D-coordinator.
"I am, just because it allows me to work more intimately with at least a portion of our players," he said. "I get to see a lot of players on a daily basis, usually handling things that they're struggling with or providing counseling or support. What I really enjoyed last year was having the chance to actually be able to instruct and teach again. I love to teach, and one of the things that directed me toward being a coach is that I love the teaching. Coaching is nothing but teaching and teaching is service-oriented. That's based on love and caring for whomever you're teaching and have stewardship over."
Among the defensive players who have caught Mendenhall's eye during the first two weeks of spring practices include a pair of USC transfers — linebacker Uona Kaveinga, who redshirted last season, and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo.
"I like them both. Both will help us," Mendenhall said Monday, at the halfway mark of spring practices. "Uona Keveinga right now is the starting mike linebacker if he holds onto it through spring. Hebron at nose tackle is a special player. As he continues to learn more about how we do things and get the effort level right, he's very talented."
Kaveinga, a junior, joined the program last winter but couldn't compete in the fall due to NCAA transfer rules. Fangupo, meanwhile, enrolled at BYU in January, but can play this fall because of the NCAA sanctions placed on the Trojans. He is a senior.
Kaveinga recorded a sack and a tackle-for-loss during the team session Monday.
PICKING BACK UP: The Cougar offense, under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Doman, is building off its strong finish of a year ago.
"The same momentum is carrying through from where we finished the season and what I've seen through spring," Mendenhall said. "That's considering three or four offensive lineman are out (due to injury or surgery). That's a positive sign."
Sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps is happy with the progress that has been made the past two weeks.
"These guys are just getting better every day," he said. "I'm really excited about our defense and our offense, just the way we're practicing right now. The momentum is shifting our way, and guys are starting to feel it. We're in the third week of practice, the second phase of spring ball. This is where the execution kicks in."
Heaps threw a pair of touchdown passes during the team session Monday. He threw a 6-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Cody Hoffman, followed by a 55-yard strike to Hoffman, who leaped in the air and came down with the ball over a couple of defenders.
THIS WEEK: BYU is scheduled to practice again today, Thursday and Friday. Friday marks alumni day, when former Cougars are invited to return to campus and watch the team practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
NEW POSITIONS: When asked about which players that have switched positions are standing out, Mendenhall replied, "I like Mike Hague playing in the secondary. He's doing a nice job. And I really like Mike Alisa at fullback."
Hague, a junior, is a former running back who has lost 45 pounds since last fall. Alisa played linebacker as a freshman before going on a mission.
INJURY UPDATE: Wide receiver McKay Jacobson missed Monday's practice due to an illness. … Cornerback Robbie Buckner was playing with a cast on his hand after breaking his hand last week. Even with the injured hand, Buckner still managed to come up with an interception Monday.