Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — Michael Alisa spent last season's practice sessions trying to make a name for himself as he was buried on the depth chart. He'd often be the fourth running back used, getting most of his reps at fullback, playing with the second and even third-team offensive units.
This spring it's a different story — he's the man. Alisa took over a lot of the running back duties midway through last season and thrived as a result.
Subsequently he's the first running back out there, running with the first team.
"It's so much different for me this year," said Alisa. "I feel a lot more confident — especially with my blocking assignments and my route-running. Those are the things I've improved on most, but yeah, it's good to be out there with the starters and hopefully I can stay there."
Alisa doesn't feel as if he's arrived, however — far from it. In football you have to perform and improve with every practice session or someone will catch you. A rejuvenated Joshua Quezada, up-and-comer Adam Hine and Rugby sensation Paul Lasike are all nipping at Alisa's heels, pushing him to be better.
"I'm trying to take the same exact attitude that I did last season," said Aisa. "I went out there every day hoping — begging for coaches to notice me and gave it everything that I had and it's no different this year. No way do I feel like I've earned the spot. I have to prove my worth every day and that's the attitude I'm taking."
Running with the first-team offensive line hasn't been what it's usually cracked up to be for Alisa. Due to the mass inexperience blocking ahead of him, plays are often blown dead before they can even begin.
"It makes you mad because you know it would be a lot different if our regular guys were in there," said Alisa. "I mean, the young guys are trying the best they can and they're improving, but there's so much experience they're going against and those guys are thinking they're all bad and dominating us. But we know it will be a different story when we get our guys back. We'll get them back in the fall."
UGLY AND ABBREVIATED: Due to the mass injuries to the offense, coach Bronco Mendenhall has decided to shorten the team's team drills in favor of more skeleton, or 7-on-7 drills which don't involve linemen. Today's team drill session featured eight passes with Riley Nelson going 0-for-5, James Lark 0-for-2 and Ammon Olsen was 0-for-1. The lone play that yielded any type of yardage was an 11-yard run by Riley Nelson.
"We've really lengthened our pass (7-on-7) drills because of our linemen situation, so we're getting a ton of work for our quarterbacks," said Mendenhall. "We went 15 minutes (with team drills) and that's what we needed or all that we could do."
MORE INJURIES:Jordan Johnson, who had been seeing every rep with the first team at field corner left practice early with injury. The specifics of his injury have yet to be determined.
Joe Sampson missed today's practice due to what Mendenhall stated as "academic issues." Sampson is expected to be back with the team soon.
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