Anxious to restore its lofty tradition in 1998, BYU opens spring football practice this weekend.

The Cougars are looking to regroup after a frustrating 1997 campaign that saw them lose three of their final four games and miss out on a postseason bowl."To go 6-5, that's not good in my book," said defensive lineman Ed Kehl, one of 16 seniors on the '98 squad. "We want to prove to everyone in the nation that we can play. Hopefully, it will show."

The first pair of practices are scheduled for today and Saturday, if Mother Nature cooperates. "We'll see if LaVell (Edwards) has any pull with the weather," joked tight end/kickers coach Chris Pella.

The Cougars have 29 days to conduct 15 practices (as per NCAA rules), which includes 10 in full gear, and three scrimmages.

Spring practice culminates March 28 with the annual Blue-White game.

Coaches have practices scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of next week, freeing up Wednesday as a make-up day in case any sessions are postponed due to poor weather conditions.

BYU players will not be in pads the first two days of practice. "That's when we'll be teaching our offensive and defensive packages, especially to the new players," said Pella.

Finding replacements for departed starters will be a major focus for the Cougars over the next few weeks.

The BYU defense returns an experienced nucleus of eight starters, including all four defensive linemen. The question marks are in the secondary, where the Cougars will have to replace cornerbacks Omarr Morgan and Ben Cook.

The offense, which struggled to score points last season, has lost six starters, including running back Brian McKenzie and offensive tackle Eric Bateman. BYU is counting on players at three positions - tight end, wide receiver and O-line - to make strong showings this spring.

Perhaps the best news for the Cougars is the return of redshirt running back Ronney Jenkins, the 1996 WAC Freshman of the Year. Quarterback Kevin Feterik is expected re-establish himself as the undisputed starter.

Meanwhile, a few players who suffered season-ending injuries in 1997 will see limited action this spring or could be held out altogether: fullback Kalani Fifita (back), tight end Nate Foreman (knee) and safety Chris Ellison (knee).

The Cougars already have been gearing up for the 1998 season for months, according to Kehl. "Our attitude is real positive.

Everybody is working hard," he said. "Guys are lifting four times a week, and that's never happened since I've been here. Everybody's paying the price. LIke LaVell said, nobody has their spot (guaranteed) come spring. He's never said that before. I'm excited to see how we're going to do."

Pella said spring practice "gives us a chance to evaluate players, especially those who have to fill slots for kids who have graduated. We want to come out of spring with a solid two-deep. We need to roll up our sleeves and go to work."

The season opener is Sept. 5 at Alabama, which will be followed up with games against Pac-10 powers Arizona State and Washington. BYU's 12-game schedule does not include a bye week.