BYU football notebook: Underclassmen battling for playing time
PROVO — While BYU boasts 29 seniors on the roster, a few newcomers are expected to contribute this season for BYU — including a recently returned missionary and a couple of true freshmen.
Sophomore free safety Craig Bills did not return home from a mission in time for spring drills, but he has played well in fall camp. He should see significant playing time this year.
"We're going to need him," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Bills. "He's a good player and he'll certainly be in the two-deep, not only in base (coverage), but also in nickel. Then he'll probably be a starter on every special team. He'll be playing."
Mendenhall said it has not yet been determined whether freshman running back Jamaal Williams and freshman wide receiver Dylan Collie will play this season, but both have impressed the coaching staff — and their teammates — in fall camp.
"He's working hard," quarterback Riley Nelson said of Collie. "He knows the offense pretty well as far as the time he's put in to memorizing the playbook and things like that. I'm really excited for him. He wants it really bad, and that shows in his blocking. Once he gets featured in more throws, I have full confidence he'll make all of the plays he needs to."
Collie caught two passes for 22 yards in last Thursday's scrimmage, while Williams rushed six times for 34 yards and a touchdown.
CAMP ROLLS ON: More than one week into fall camp, Mendenhall likes his players' effort.
"I'm pleased with how they're working," he said. "They're improving each day, small things, position mastery, and their effort is consistent. So I think we're actually gaining momentum. … Through day number nine, I feel like we're on track."
Asked about the lack of contact drills in camp, Mendenhall said, "I think there's still plenty of time to close the gap on knocking guys down and flying into them. Just trying to be smarter and build into it rather than start strong, then fade into the season."
The Cougars will likely hold another scrimmage next Thursday, Mendenhall said.
INJURY UPDATE: BYU has suffered only one injury with long-term ramifications during fall camp — tight end Devin Mahina, who suffered a broken hand last week.
Several others have been dealing with nagging injuries, but are expected to be back in action again soon.
"I think everyone is in good shape as of today, which is good," Mendenhall said.
ON THE DEFENSIVE BACKS: Mendenhall likes not only the depth he has in the defensive secondary, but also the athleticism.
"Our secondary might be the best we've had — the best we've had athletically — since I've been here," he said. "Whether they play that way or not, we'll see."
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