Dick Harmon: It is possible the BYU Cougars are going too fast, too hard

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14 2013 5:40 p.m. MDT

BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and offensive coordinator Robert Anae stand as the BYU football team practices Monday, March 18, 2013, in Provo. Players say Anae plans to speed up BYU's offense this fall.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

PROVO — Is it possible BYU’s offense is going too fast, too hard?

By all indications, the quick-paced offense installed by offensive coordinator Robert Anae is progressing just fine. Maybe too fine.

Almost every time you talk to Anae after practice or watch his staff on the sidelines, they are pushing to correctly align players and decrease the amount of time between plays.

It’s not as dizzy a pace as it could be, but it’s headed that way.

One goal of this trendy no-huddle attack is to stress the defense, wear it out, and fatigue defenders all over the field.

It may be working too well. Guys are dropping like flies.

It looks like BYU coaches are watching this carefully to see how to manage it. Nobody wants the squad to blow a gasket.

Last Saturday, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and other staff members noted the sound of pads hitting was not up to expectations. In that public scrimmage, the team looked a half-step slow. On Wednesday, Mendenhall limited practice and then shortened practice telling reporters he had concerns over injuries and how tired the squad appeared.

Mendenhall words included injuries, fatigue, losing some momentum, a need for recovery and treatment as reasons to step back. Injuries were not the result of contact but “tempo and overuse.”

Now, this isn’t out of the ordinary during two-a-days. Bodies simply wear down and guys get tired. But because of Anae's offense, are the Cougars facing something different this fall, something that's producing a little more weariness and a few extra injuries?

"It is a concern,” said Mendenhall.

Season-ending ACL surgeries to corners Trent Trammell and Jordan Johnson and season-ending pectorial surgery to nose guard Tuni Kanuch may or may not have been caused by this phenomenon. Nobody can say. Injuries just happen — sometimes from nothing other than bad luck. But it is a fact to anyone witnessing practices that the pace does take it out of players, plenty of them on defense.

Is there a price to be paid physically for going fast and hard?

One would think so. The high-tempo movement is a trend, a gimmick — something out of the ordinary. According to Dr. David Chao, a 17-year veteran NFL team doctor, speed and more reps do bring more injuries due to exposure.

"First off, league wide, practice tempo is being sped up," said Chao. "It's not just Chip Kelly in Philadelphia or Joe Philbin in Miami. The name of the game around the entire league is speed and tempo in practice, which leads to more practice plays and higher chance of injury. Many teams also use multiple practice fields simultaneously thereby increasing the number of practice plays and thus potential injury. It’s really a simple equation; more plays at game speed equals more opportunities for injuries.”

Mendenhall has been very aggressive in monitoring his practices, often receiving criticism by some fans and media members for scaling back on contact. With the insertion of LDS missionaries and a lack of depth, he’s made practices efficient instead of long. He is very protective of players and when he senses sessions don’t feel right, he pulls in the reins.

But is this fall a little different?

It is a delicate balance that all coaches go through. Kyle Whittingham is doing the same thing as August heads toward September game times. You test hard and push, create competition, build a depth chart, then pull back and game prep.

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