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Dick Harmon: BYU's loading up with one-year players fits a need

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 9:14 p.m. MDT

UTEP wide receiver Jordan Leslie pulls in a pass for a touchdown against Colorado State in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Fort Collins, Colo., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)  (David Zalubowski, AP) UTEP wide receiver Jordan Leslie pulls in a pass for a touchdown against Colorado State in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Fort Collins, Colo., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski, AP)

Mercenaries.

For the third time in four months, Bronco Mendenhall signed football players who can only give him one year of eligibility.

One could say it is officially a trend; a strategic move by BYU’s staff to shore up graduating players who want another venue, a different late chance, a new end game to their college careers.

Why?

The biggest reason is BYU depth, the second is availability.

Regardless of if any of the three players can earn starting jobs, they give immediate depth to a football program that is heading into new territory. Ever since BYU’s sponsoring LDS Church issued new guidelines for two-year missionary service in the fall of 2012 (age 18), one could say it has strained the complicated spreadsheets that are Mendenhall’s scholarship allotments that project half a decade or more into the future.

Stanford wide receiver Keanu Nelson (20) during the first half of the PAC-12 Championship football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)                     (Rick Scuteri, AP) Stanford wide receiver Keanu Nelson (20) during the first half of the PAC-12 Championship football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) (Rick Scuteri, AP)

The new faces?

The first player expected to graduate in weeks and show up on BYU’s roster is UTEP star receiver Jordan Leslie. This is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound experienced Division I starter with impressive catch numbers. He has size, speed and strength to be an immediate impact player in wake of the departure of all-time leading receiver Cody Hoffman.

The second one-year player BYU signed a few weeks ago is Stanford receiver and return specialist Keanu Nelson. A former All-State receiver out of Sabino High in Tucson, Ariz., Nelson saw key action for the Cardinal as a receiver and punt returner.

The third to sign is Nebraska safety Harvey Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior who had extensive playing time as a Husker with four starts and playing time in 35 games in his career.

Nebraska's Harvey Jackson (1) gets a hold of Arkansas State's David Oku (25) during their Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 NCAA football game in Lincoln, Neb.(AP Photo/Dave Weaver) (DAVE WEAVER, AP) Nebraska's Harvey Jackson (1) gets a hold of Arkansas State's David Oku (25) during their Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 NCAA football game in Lincoln, Neb.(AP Photo/Dave Weaver) (DAVE WEAVER, AP)

BYU football spokesman Brett Pyne said the mix of experience that can be plugged in immediately helps both parties.

“The addition of experienced players who can help right away addresses targeted needs at receiver and defensive back. It also works well because there are scholarship opportunities in the fall that won’t be available next winter,” said Pyne.

In other words, in BYU’s shuffle of missionaries, plus those players who have been shelved for medical reasons or have quit football after 2013, there are openings for fall semester eligibility that won’t hinder offering scholarships to midyear athletes in January 2015.

It’s no secret BYU has been looking for receiver help with Hoffman and JD Falslev leaving and injuries to Ross Apo and Mitch Matthews. And replacing Daniel Sorensen at KAT safety is becoming more of a committee job with a call out for all candidates possible.

But I think Mendenhall knows he needs depth help, in particular with special teams, specifically kick coverage.

Why? Because of go fast, go hard. He needs more depth on both sides of the line.

Mendenhall likes to put his best players — regardless of position group or starting assignment — on special teams. That’s why you saw guys like Kyle Van Noy and Daniel Sorensen on kickoff cover all the time.

But that comes with a price. Players get worn down over the course of the season and that extra duty only adds to the load.

You have to look no further than the Houston and Washington games last year.

In both cases, opponents returned kickoffs for touchdowns. In the bowl game, it was evident BYU defenders were tired — season weary kind of tired.

Both TD returns came on road trips. Houston’s Demarcus Ayers returned a kick 95 yards after a 10-0 BYU lead. He had four returns that averaged 41.8 yards. Washington’s John Ross had a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD in the Fight Hunger Bowl that broke a 7-7 tie game. He had two kickoffs that averaged 60-yards.

On the other end of things, BYU returner Adam Hine had a TD return called back against Utah and witnessed two or three other returns past midfield nullified due to penalties. It was unclean execution, perhaps a depth issue.

In spring practice, Mendenhall mentioned this coming fall he would play freshmen, play a lot of them, and play them quality minutes. Specifically he mentioned 22 plays a game for true freshmen. He has to.

BYU’s numbers are an interesting phenomenon with the new church mission guidelines. Quality, mature, in shape, experienced players are in great demand.

There are only two ways you get that brand of player: through junior college transfers, redshirt missionaries that have returned and been through conditioning, these one-year players and just putting freshmen on the field to get experience quick.

At this stage, nobody knows what kind of impact these one-year players will have on the program except to provide instant depth and further competition for position playing time.

It is very tough for a one-year player to come in July, practice with the team about three to four weeks including two a days and learn all that is needed to make an immediate impact.

I think Leslie can do that. BYU has to hope transfer receiver Devon Blackman can do it too. It is a luxury to have Jackson and Nelson come to town.

“We need more bodies, more players and more people to contribute,” is how Mendenhall put it at the end of spring drills.

This trio helps meet that demand.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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