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Cougar Nation: BYU football notebook: Bronco Mendenhall pleased with BYU's start to spring ball

Published: Monday, March 12 2012 10:34 p.m. MDT

Bronco Medenhall on BYU's first day of spring football practice Monday, March 5, 2012, in Provo, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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PROVO — It's way too early to determine what type of team BYU will have this coming season, but after one week of spring practices, head coach Bronco Mendenhall likes where his team is at. The team is on pace and was able to install new plays for Week 2.

"I think we've had a really good first week," said Mendenhall. "The team is really competitive. The only downside right now is the number of injuries we have on the O-line, but we're developing some depth with the younger players."

Monday's practice saw Riley Nelson go 7-of-8 for 78 yards and a touchdown during team drills. His touchdown pass went to Marcus Mathews from seven yards out with Nelson completing another 19-yard pass to Cody Hoffman during a critical third-and-long situation.

James Lark fared well with the second team — completing all four of his pass attempts for 24 yards.

"It was a nice start to the second week," said Mendenhall.

SORE KNEES: One of the more competitive position battles looks to be at inside linebacker where four players are competing to fill two spots on the two-deep roster. With seniors Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree looking to lock down the starting spots, the competition is between junior Uani Unga, freshman Manoa Pikula, sophomore Zac Stout and junior Tyler Beck for the two rotating slots.

While both Unga and Pikula practiced all through last season, Stout and Beck sat out due to some seriously sore knees. Stout had surgery on both of his knees following the 2010 season while Beck has dealt with a torn meniscus in his right knee ever since returning home from his mission service in 2010.

"It's been incredibly frustrating," said Beck. "Every time I think I'm over the injury and feel like it's fixed I get hurt again and can't go. Hopefully this time they've figured it out. My knee is sore every day and there's pain, but I'm not sitting anymore — I want to play."

When Beck has been able to play during practice sessions he's shown very well. He's currently running with the second-team defense and holding his own.

For Stout, he entered the program in 2010 as one of the biggest linebacker prospects ever signed by the program. After seeing some early playing time he suffered "patella problems" to both of his knees.

The problems were serious enough that Stout sat out the entire 2011 season in order to get back to speed. Like Beck, he's running with the second-team defense and holding his own.

"I was nervous going out there the first day," said Stout. "I was worried if my knees would hold up, but they have. It's not easy and they hurt a lot, but it's so great to be out there and competing again."

One week in, inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell likes what he's seeing.

"I don't know if either of them are quite up to speed yet, but I like where they're at," he said. "Both of them are great talents and they'll help us if they can stay healthy and we've known that for a while. Hopefully they can just keep progressing and stay healthy now."

CHEERS FOR CHAMBERS: Some of the biggest cheers so far this spring came for converted safety O'Neill Chambers when he picked off a pass during one-on-one drills. The embattled player was suspended from the team in 2010 and has since returned to the team and switched positions. It's clear that he has the support of his teammates by the reaction to his first interception at his new position.

email: bgurney@desnews.com

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