HENDERSON, Nev. — It might reveal something about Bronco Mendenhall that he brought tight end Dennis Pitta and safety Andrew Rich to the MWC football media days this week.

Both are former walkons. He's now anointed both leaders and spokespersons for the team here in Las Vegas during MWC's media days.

Pitta is now an All-American and Rich, Mendenhall believes, is due for a big role in BYU's 2009 defense. If Rich can succeed like Pitta, Mendenhall's gamble may have paid off.

The thing about recruiting these days, said Mendenhall, is there is a sense of entitlement from those who receive scholarships.

"I like walkons, having been one of them myself," he added. "I like their work ethic and desire to play the game. We have 24 walkons who have earned scholarships.

Rich, at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, played in 13 games last year, three as a starter.

He believes the Cougar defense will be improved in 2009.

"We'll be more experienced, more of a unit," said Rich. "I like what I see. Guys are working hard. We have a lot to prove. We didn't play as well as I would have liked last season."

Rich gives the Cougars a big safety who can deliver a statement hit. He can also cover a lot of territory and has the height to win jump balls against receivers and tight ends. With former corner Scott Johnson moving to free safety, Mendenhall likes his last line of defense with that pair.

Schematically, Rich isn't sure what changes the Cougars will deploy in 2009 with defensive coordinator Jaime Hill now given free rein to make all the calls (Mendenhall announced on Tuesday Hill would take over responsibility for defensive calls on the sideline).

Said Rich, "Obviously, we'll mix it up, drop eight or sometimes bring six, it depends. As a safety, I prefer pressure because you don't have to stay in coverage for that long."

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"With Mendenhall and Hill, I'm not sure how that will work. But Hill leads the defense and he's in charge of things. He does a great job and prepares us well. I think he's been able to teach us during the season and in spring. He's helped us break down film and get to specifics of what to look for. It's great to have coach Hill around to show us the ropes."

A year ago, Rich was a rookie from Snow College. Everything has changed now. He'll be expected to help lead the defense and break in a new cornerback to replace Brandon Howard. Among the candidates are JC transfers Lee Aquirre, Brian Logan, and Corby Eason, returning missionary Robbie Buckner and Garrett Nicholson, both freshmen.

"I now know more of what to expect," said Rich. "Now I know more about the tempo and pace of the game, the fans and just everything in general. I can prepare better mentally and physically. Being out there with those guys, you realize how much you need them. I'm looking forward to this season."

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com