PROVO — BYU wraps up fall camp this weekend, and coach Bronco Mendenhall has liked what he's seen the past two weeks.
"Not one significant injury caused by practice for all of camp, which, I don't ever remember saying that," Mendenhall said. "That's really good. There are some minor injuries, but no majors. I would say that's a great thing … We still have work to do, but we have a healthy team going into game prep. That was my goal."
The Cougars held their final two-a-day session Friday, and they are holding one practice Saturday, which will mark the end of fall camp.
"There was no easing back," Mendenhall said after Friday's morning practice. "The number of periods was less, but what we were trying to get done, still a lot of urgency. At the beginning of camp, there are so many things to assess. Now, it's a few things you want to see here or there."
BYU, which will begin game preparation on Monday, opens the season in less than two weeks against Washington State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
So how did the players survive fall camp?
"Surviving," said wide receiver Ross Apo. "That's been the word for everybody. Man, we're tired of playing each other. The defense is tired of seeing our faces. They come up and hit us sometimes. And the running backs hit the linebackers. I think we're ready to play another team."
"Overall, we made tremendous strides from Day One until right now in camp," said offensive lineman Braden Brown. "We dealt with a little bit of bumps and bruises along the front of the line. As an offensive unit, we've come a long ways. I think we're doing pretty well. We're still determining a couple of spots on the line. But whatever five we put out on the field, it's going to be five guys that get after it and get the job done."
During the offseason, BYU coaches changed the players' training and conditioning regimen and had them start working with nutritionists, which continued during fall camp.
"This fall camp has been kind of different," Apo said. "It's been harder than other years since the coaches are giving us other things to do. But I feel like my body is better at moving around and I'm not as sore, or not as tired as I was last year. It's kind of a bittersweet thing. We're up early in the morning. Then we get home and the sun's already down. We just go back to sleep, wake up, and do it again. We're just mentally tired."
The offseason changes have benefited his team, Mendenhall said.
"Our rehab routines, our training room care, our fitness level, all that as a complete process is at a higher level. Now practice integration, so we basically addressed the whole system. Hopefully, when we play, it will show. But I know right now we have a healthy team going into game prep."
Apo believes those changes have helped the players stay healthy and prepare them for the season ahead.
"By this time in camp last year, there were like 15 guys out with serious pulled muscles and a bunch of dudes having to sit out of practice," he said. "But we only have two or three guys out with injuries. All this functional movement, cold plunging, and recovery, is paying off."
KICKING CONCERNS: Mendenhall's biggest concern at this point has to do with the kicking game. Justin Sorensen, who underwent offseason back surgery, has been unable to kick during fall camp.
"The longer it takes (for Sorensen to return), the more risk. The shorter it takes, the less risk," Mendenhall said. "We'll keep monitoring that. We're preparing other options, just in case."
With Sorensen out, punter Riley Stephenson and backup quarterback Taysom Hill have seen action at kicker.
GOING DEEP: Mendenhall said this team is the deepest he's had in his eight years at the helm.
"One of the biggest things where it's showing is special teams," he added. "There are very few walk-on players on our special teams. Usually, they were the heart of it, based on how hard they were trying. They're having a hard time getting on now because we have scholarship players, and our best players that really want to do it, and there's more of them. That's what I noticed today maybe for the first time was in the two-deep. It's hard to get on it. I think that will help us."
TEAM ACTIVITIES: In years past, Mendenhall has had his team participate in a team activity, which has included attending a movie, floating the Provo River, or doing some surfing at Provo Beach Resort.
Nothing like that this year.
"Basically, I've substituted a lot of the activities with being with my team at the end (of practice) with different kinds of challenges," Mendenhall explained. "It's not like floating the river, but this particular team, I'm just taking a different approach, based on what I think they need."