Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU opened up spring football practices a week earlier than usual with some abnormal aggression with not one, but two altercations between the offense and defense on Monday.
Fights are a normal occurrence of any football practice session, but highly unusual to occur during the first day of spring ball. Coach Bronco Mendenhall termed the fights as "surprising."
"We're excited to be out here and we want to be competitive from the get-go," added safety Joe Sampson. "It's just the way it's going to be with us on defense — it's our attitude. Guys are going to go after it hard with every practice and with every rep — that's our attitude. We keep that stuff on the field and that's just football — guys get after it. It was fun and it was intense."
Mendenhall didn't reference the scuff-ups as being a bad thing, but as something he'll have to manage going forward.
"Normally the first day isn't so heated, but both sides are competitive and have good leadership," said Mendenhall. "Neither side wants to lose and that's a positive thing. It just puts more pressure on me on how to manage it."
Leading the offense this season is assumed starting quarterback Riley Nelson. As is the norm, the offensive execution wasn't exactly pristine the first day, with a bevy of dropped balls and stalled drives defining the offensive production or lack thereof.
Nelson, while realizing it's normal for the defense to be ahead of the offense at the start of any practice session, got after his teammates quite a bit.
"I got a little bit frustrated at times," said Nelson. "We should know the plays. We had guys in wrong spots, which shouldn't happen. I'm over it and we get another crack at it tomorrow."
Nelson enters the practice as the assumed starter at quarterback and as the de facto leader on the offense. While everything seems laid out for him, Nelson, who was the assumed backup last year at this time, is well aware that things can change quickly.
"I could stink it up, you know," said Nelson. "I didn't complete a ball in team today and if that continues then I'll be on the bench as quick as anyone else. I always feel that pressure to perform. I've always been second-choice from my freshman year to last year and that's just always my mentality. … I don't feel that I'm the guy and I don't feel that my spot is entrenched, but I do feel a very deep need to get better."
Nelson cited that learning to beat a defense with his arms more than with his legs as something he wants to improve this coming season. He hopes to raise his completion percentage significantly while striving to convert plays as they're designed in lieu of ad-libbing.
PRACTICE NOTES: Mendenhall stated that running back Iona Pritchard would be unable to practice this spring, but the sophomore running back was out there the first day going through all the drills. "I had no idea that he could come out and run like that. I didn't think I'd see him until the summer and he looked pretty good," said Mendenhall. … Nelson was unable to move the offense much. Taking reps with the first-stringers, he saw both of his pass attempts fall incomplete. Assumed backup James Lark did see some success with the 2s, completing four passes for around 45 yards in a drive that culminated with a 31-yard field goal by Riley Stephenson. …O'Neill Chambers returned to the team as a safety, but was unable to finish the practice session — going down with what looked to be a thigh injury early during one-on-one drills.
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