After one week of watching two-a-day practice sessions, BYU head coach LaVell Edwards is certain his team is ahead of where it was at this time last year.
"Just the fact that we've stayed healthy and that our offensive backfield has playing experience has made all the difference," he said Friday.Of course, the Cougars faced a situation quite to the contrary last season and split their first six games before rallying to a 9-4 record. Because of injuries, their offensive line never was able to practice together during last year's fall camp, and the Cougars didn't have a single experienced running back.
"It was the most frustrating fall of my career," says Edwards.
And how does he find this fall? "We're reasonably healthy, and that's how I measure how we're doing. As I've said before, I think this team has potential, as long as we stay healthy."
With their season opener just 12 days away, the Cougars have few injuries so far. Of the starters, only linebacker Duane Johnson (hamstring pull), guard Mohammed Elewonibi (shoulder surgery) and cornerback Brian Mitchell (arthroscopic knee surgery) have missed practice time because of injuries, and Johnson and Mitchell are expected to return for opener.
It's always difficult to assess a team before it has played a game, but Edwards has seen some pleasing signs.
"The first thing I look for is attitude," says Edwards. "That's always been the impressive thing about this team. They work hard in practice. We really haven't had a downer. And the second thing is how well it's coming together - the execution, the continuity, the performance of the players and how much practice time they're gettting. For the most part, the guys we've been counting on have been there."
BYU opens the season Sept. 1 (a Thursday) against defending conference champion Wyoming in Laramie. The Cougars return 13 starters from last year's team, plus three part-time starters.
STATUS QUO: Inside linebackers David Porter and John MacDougall were not readmitted to school this fall . . . Darren Fortie, the son of former BYU All-American running back Eldon, has quit the team. He would not have seen much action . . . Reserve outside linebacker Alema Fitisemanu is considered a promising talent, but he has a slow-healing foot injury and BYU coaches are not anxious to rush him . . . Cornerback Kirk Davis, who is rebounding from surgery and radiation treatment for Hodgkins' Disease, has performed well in fall practice. "The darn guy is amazing," says Edwards. "He has had his challenges. I wondered about his endurance, but he's hanging together." . . . Running back Mike O'Brien, who is back in uniform just eight months after a serious knee injury, has been practicing this week but has been held out of scrimmages. That will change today.