PROVO — Not long after Andrew Rich's final game in a BYU uniform, coach Bronco Mendenhall heaped lavish praise on the first-team All-Mountain West Conference defensive back.
"Until Andrew Rich, the best other safeties I ever coached were (NFL star) Brian Urlacher and (former Cougar and NFL player) Aaron Francisco," Mendenhall said following the Cougars' 52-24 victory over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl last December. "Andrew Rich is in that same trio now."
Since then, one of Mendenhall's tasks as defensive coordinator has been trying to find a replacement for Rich, who last season led the team with 110 tackles, the third-highest total by a BYU player in the last 20 years.
After three weeks of spring ball, Mendenhall is hoping he has found one in sophomore Daniel Sorensen, who recently returned home from an LDS Church mission.
Mendenhall said Sorensen is "kind of the heir apparent right now" to Rich.
As a freshman in 2008, Sorensen played in 12 games at linebacker, tallying 17 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for a combined loss of 15 yards. Sorensen also recorded a nine-yard sack against Utah State and an interception against Wyoming.
The coach said he's not surprised that 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Colton, Calif., has made an impact during the spring.
"He was such a good player before he left, we knew he would play, and play a lot, somewhere," Mendenhall said. "He's playing the kat safety for us and he's also playing nickel. He's smart, he's fast, he's tough and he's a good tackler."
Mendenhall added that he likes the battle between Sorensen and sophomore Jray Galea'i at safety. "But when we put them both out there at the same time in nickel," Mendenhall said, "it's a nice combination."
UP OR DOWN?: Most offensive coordinators call plays from the press box on game day. Will BYU's first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Doman move to the box or stay on the field?
"I think he belongs down on the field. Ultimately, that's going to be a decision that he makes," said sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. "There's advantages to doing both. But coach Doman's personality and energy is contagious. You love to have that on your sideline. It's a big deal for us and we love having him with us on the field when we're battling. I think he'll probably stay on the sidelines."
Heaps added that he likes playing for Doman.
"We have a good relationship," he said. "Coach Doman is someone I really look up to. He's a big mentor in my life."
THIS WEEK: BYU did not practice Monday but will return to action Tuesday and Thursday.20 comments on this story
The Cougars will conclude spring drills by staging a running-clock, 70-play spring game at noon Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The scrimmage is open to the public.
Prior to the scrimmage, at 11 a.m., BYU players will conduct a clinic for schoolchildren up to the eighth grade.