PROVO — A week and a half into fall camp, several newcomers have started to emerge on BYU's football team.
In particular, a handful of players have established themselves as likely contributors — if not heavy contributors — this fall.
These new guys have played well and subsequently have received praise from coaches. They also play at positions pinpointed as potential trouble spots prior to the start of fall camp, which makes their emergence timely and necessary.
Offensive line was widely pronounced as a potential trouble spot heading into the season, and the group received a lot of scrutiny as a result. Five incoming players are vying for playing time along the O-line — with two of those five recently receiving praise from coaches.
Other positions where newcomers are set to make immediate impacts are at both cornerback positions, nose tackle and at kicker, where both Trevor Samson and Moose Bingham are battling incumbent Justin Sorensen.
So which players are set to make immediate contributions this season and what can fans expect?
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Daniel was a late addition to the 2013 signing class, but coaches are undoubtedly relieved to have him in the fold in light of Jordan Johnson’s season-ending ACL tear this week.
Daniel is a 6-foot-1, 198-pound defensive back from De Anza (Calif.) Junior College. He was recruited to help out primarily at boundary corner, but Johnson’s injury will move him to field corner, where he’s shown capable of playing the demanding position.
Daniel is the clear front-runner to start at field cornerback. That's partially due to the lack of depth behind him, but it's also indicative of his talent and ability.
Leavitt is a 5-foot-11, 198-pound true freshman from Portland, Ore. Most of his experience in high school was at safety, but depth issues have forced his move to boundary corner, where he’s received praise from coaches.
Defensive coordinator Nick Howell loves Leavitt’s work ethic and overall ability to play effectively as a true freshman. Leavitt was set to battle with Daniel for the starting spot, but, due to Johnson’s injury, the starting boundary spot is now Leavitt's to lose.
"He's still learning," Howell told KSL. "You can tell. But shoot, he'll come up with a play on the ball in a critical moment, so I'm not afraid (to play Leavitt). Heck no, I'm not afraid."
Worryingly for BYU fans, Leavitt injured his hip during practice Tuesday. As of late Tuesday afternoon, his status wasn't known.
Wesley is a 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive tackle from Diablo Valley (Calif.) Junior College. He’s seen most of his reps playing at right tackle with the second-string offense and has been pointed out as one of the two offensive linemen emerging as significant contributors.
Wesley still needs to work on his conditioning, but should play a big role along BYU’s offensive front, if not start at right tackle.
Kearsley was deemed by many to be the top high school signee in BYU’s 2013 class. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Aloha, Ore., product has done a lot to live up to that hype through the first week of practices.
Kearsley has been used primarily at guard and center with the second-string offense. First-team reps may be in store as he continues to progress. His upside is tremendous and it’s a good bet, at this point, that Kearsley will play a significant role as a true freshman, if not start.
"I really like the shape Brayden is in coming into fall camp," said offensive line coach Garett Tujague. "He's going hard and he's not backing down from the challenge. I like what I see."
Taliauli is a true freshman from East High School. He’s seen a lot of work with the second-team defense due to a rash of nagging injuries that have kept fellow newcomers, such as Kalolo Utu and JonRyheem Peoples, out of action.
The 6-foot-2, 312-pound lineman has shown well with the reps allotted him. Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi is looking for three able bodies at nose tackle and Taliauli has a good shot to be one of those three.
"Merrill is doing a nice job and I like how he works," said Kaufusi. "He has a long ways to go, but I think he's certainly someone who could help us this year."
Samson is one of two kickers competing with Justin Sorensen for the starting spot. He's a transfer from Fresno City College who has yet to emerge in the position battle.
Bingham was set to play for Utah before deciding to be a Cougar after his LDS mission. Bingham was a prolific kicker for Alta High School, but has yet to emerge as the top option at place kicker.
As mentioned, Peoples has been beset by injury and conditioning issues since the start of fall camp. The 6-foot-4, 339-pound defensive tackle could make a significant contribution at nose tackle once he's able to participate fully in practice sessions.
Utu is a 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle from Compton (Calif.) Community College. Like Peoples, he's been unable to perform fully and, subsequently, has yet to make much of an impact.
Duran has seen a lot of reps at center, but like fellow junior college transfer Josh Carter, hasn't yet made the same strides as Kearsley and Wesley. He's a 6-foot-1, 301-pound interior lineman from Cabrillo (Calif.) College.