Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
PROVO — Boasting a veteran team led by senior quarterback Riley Nelson, and set to embark on its second season as an independent, BYU opens fall camp today.
"It's going to be fun, to be out there with helmets on, running around with pads again, hearing them popping, stuff like that," said Nelson. "Training is fun, lifting weights is fun, watching film is fun, running our own practices like we do is fun — but there's nothing quite like the fall."
The Cougars open the campaign at home against Washington State on Aug. 30. And, as always, expectations going into the season are high.
"We're excited and anxious. We fell short of our goals last year. Everyone knows that," said senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "Everyone knows if we do everything we can, we can win all of our games this year. Obviously, that's the goal. That's the goal for every team in the country. We really think we can do it. We think we have the right group of guys to do it."
With the season-opener less than a month away, here are five points of emphasis BYU will be addressing during fall camp:
The offensive line
The Cougars are essentially breaking in a new offensive line after losing Matt Reynolds and Terence Brown. While three starters return, two will play new positions this season.
Braden Hansen is expected to move from right guard to left guard, and Houston Reynolds will likely take over at center after playing left guard a year ago. Highly touted freshman Ryker Mathews is projected as the starter at left tackle, and senior Braden Brown should man the right tackle spot. Brock Stringham impressed during spring ball and could be the starter at right guard, though he could be pressed by Walter Kahaiali'i and Manaaki Vaitai.
Due to various injuries, many of the offensive linemen were sidelined during the spring, and will need time to jell during fall camp.
"I feel like we have the talent," Nelson said of the offensive line. "If our guys' brains and knowledge of the offense can catch up to their talent, by the end of fall camp, I feel like we'll have a deep O-line."
The run game
Last season, BYU's ground attack struggled through the first few games of the season, hindering the Cougars' offensive production.
BYU's top rusher a year ago, J.J. Di Luigi, is gone, while junior Michael Alisa, who rushed for 455 yards a year ago, is expected to be the featured back. With Josh "Juice" Quezada deciding to transfer a couple of weeks ago, there are opportunities for David Foote, Adam Hine, Paul Lasike and true freshman Jamaal Williams to contribute.
The Cougars will be boosted by the return of fullback Iona Pritchard, who suffered a broken leg during scrimmage in fall camp last year. Coach Bronco Mendenhall compares Pritchard to former BYU fullback Manase Tonga in the way he can catch passes and block. And, of course, the Cougars have a running threat in Nelson, whose ability to scramble should keep opposing defenses honest.
Injuries are always a part of fall camp. It's the tightrope Mendenhall tries to walk every August, striking a balance between keeping players healthy while getting his team prepared for the season.
During spring ball, an alarmingly high number of players were sidelined due to injuries or offseason surgeries. The Cougars are hoping those players will be back and ready to go.
One of those is star linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who underwent shoulder surgery last winter.
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