PROVO — If the progress of BYU strong safety Daniel Sorensen is any indication of how BYU's secondary has evolved over the past year, Bronco Mendenhall may be onto something defensively.
Sorensen is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound, junior and clear leader of the Cougar secondary.
He's no longer a guy stepping in learning the ropes. He's not that guy just off a mission trying to wrap his mind and body around how to play at the Div. I level. He's no longer a guy who has to look at films of Andrew Rich and try and figure out a role, a mindset, and how to be a piece of the puzzle.
Lack of hesitancy on a play, confidence, and fewer mistakes with skill is a big deal.
Why is this important?
Let's see …
Caused fumbles, big hits, deflected passes, position mastery, sure tackles, adept coverage in the last line of defense, gaps filled properly, stops on key third down plays, and proper rotation of pass coverage sets. The list of potential reasons why it is important goes on and on.
You have only to look at the film of BYU's win over Oklahoma in Dallas in the 2009 season opener to see how big a role a smart, confident, hard-hitting kat safety can have in Mendenhall's defense.
In that game, Rich delivered a series of hard hits that caused fumbles, stopped scoring drives and essentially delivered BYU the victory over the third-ranked Sooners.
Sorensen appears to be confidently slipping into the Rich mold in many ways. This could be a difference-maker for Mendenhall.
When asked about BYU's secondary this past week, coach Nick Howell paused for a second and smiled. "I like it. I like it a lot. I'm happy where we're at, although we still have work to go."
At the time, Howell was still making decisions on the depth chart and was hesitant to label any kind of pecking order after his starters.
When it came to Sorensen, Howell found it easy to praise the guy.
"The jump he's taken from a year ago to now is unbelievable. He's one of the smartest players we've had and one of the most athletic we've had. We're looking for good things out of him."
Talk about dropping the politically conservative quote you usually get at times in fall camp.
Along with Sorensen, free safety Joe Sampson, the return of Craig Bills and the progress of Mike Hague, the Cougars return field corner Preston Hadley and will introduce the talented redshirt freshman Jordan Johnson at boundary corner.
It's the most talent in his depth chart that Howell has had at BYU in some time.
He calls Sorensen the anchor.
Howell's optimism is backed by plenty of film from camp and witnesses. Not only from visual inspection of practice, but comments from others including Mendenhall.
Mendenhall has stated BYU's secondary might be "the best we've had athletically" since he started coaching at BYU eight years ago as the defensive coordinator for Gary Crowton.
A big part of that is Sorensen.
Now, yes, this could be filed in the fall hype department. Happens all the time.
But there is no question Sorensen's role on Mendenhall's defense is huge. That he's advanced and prepared is key. The optimism starts with Sorensen and is couched in the athleticism of free safety Sampson and corners Hadley and Jordan.
The best BYU secondaries I've seen over the years were in 1982 (Tom Holmoe, Kevin Walker, Kyle Morrell, Greg Peterson and John Mannion), 1984 (Mark Allen, Kyle Morrell) and 1996 (Tim McTyer, Omarr Morgan). The 2001 secondary with Jernaro Gilford and Levi Madarieta wasn't too shabby either.
The 1996 secondary had two lock-down corners in Morgan and McTyer, which allowed the defense to be extremely flexible. I don't know if Hadley and Johnson are in that category, but they certainly are more capable of playing press cover in man coverage than any I've seen since Mendenhall came to Provo.
If that holds true this year, it will give Mendenhall great flexibility.
And at BYU, having a playmaking secondary is a very big deal.
In 2012, it starts with Sorensen.