With huge vacancies to fill in the interior lines and at wide receiver, BYU begins spring football practice this week in Provo.
The Cougars, who finished the season with a 9-4 record and a victory in the Freedom Bowl, lost 13 starters to graduation - seven on offense and six on defense.NCAA rules allow 20 practices - 15 in pads. BYU's annual spring game will be held April 8 in Cougar Stadium.
As usual, a handful of top players won't participate in spring practice because of injuries, including all-conference linebacker Bob Davis, quarterback Sean Covey, defensive tackle Pete Harston, wide receiver Jeff Frandsen and possibly defensive tackle Craig Patterson.
Of the junior college recruits BYU signed during the off-season, three will participate in spring drills - Mike Jenkins, a 6-foot-8, 347-pound offensive tackle from Chabot (Calif.); Rich Kaufusi, a 6-4, 250-pound defensive lineman from Dixie; and Brent Nyberg, a wide receiver from Dixie.
"We're really anxious to get started," says BYU Coach LaVell Edwards. "Wide receivers and interior line are the two areas we've got to take care of. We'll be all right if we can just keep the people we've got healthy."
The Cougars lost every starter but one in the offensive and defensive lines to graduation, plus tight end Darren Handley. They also lost three of their top four wide receivers - Chuck Cutler to graduation and Bryce Doman and Tyler Anderson to LDS Church missions.
The lone returning starters on offense are running backs Matt Bellini and Fred Whittingham, Covey and Frandsen. The returning starters on defense are cornerback Eric Bergeson, Davis, defensive tackle Bud Orr and outside linebackers Chad Robinson and Duane Johnson.
A number of other returning players, however, saw frequent action last season. Quarterback Ty Detmer was the Most Valuable Player in the Freedom Bowl, a performance that probably won him the starting job next season; fullback Mike Salido played nearly as often as Whittingham and Bellini; cornerback Brian Mitchell was used as a fifth defensive back last year and had four interceptions; Patterson was a starter last year until he incurred a knee injury early in the season; and Marc Neal started several games at outside linebacker, as did Harston at defensive tackle and Mark Smith at noseguard.
BYU coaches also are hopeful that sophomore linebacker Rocky Biegel and defensive tackle Eddie Green, a redshirt last season, are ready to assume major roles next season.
Besides the new additions on the field, the Cougars will have at least one on the coaching staff, as well. Robbie Bosco probably will serve as a graduate assistant on the coaching staff next fall, according to Edwards.