PROVO Depth was a major concern for coach Bronco Mendenhall when he took the reins of the BYU football program before the 2005 season.
Several players from the 2004 recruiting class had either transferred or were dismissed from school due to Honor Code violations or legal problems. That left an enormous void for Mendenhall and his staff to fill. Mendenhall's recruiting philosophy involved signing a host of players who would go on missions before playing, which seemed to complicate matters.
Three years later, though, the depth issue has improved dramatically for the Cougars.
"We've gained momentum, and we've gained depth. I think we're one year away from having the whole missionary cycle work through," Mendenhall said. "We have 13 returned missionaries coming home in the next year. We'll have a smaller recruiting class this upcoming year than what we've had. Once we make it through this next year, then the missionaries leaving and the missionaries coming back balances. It's almost a perfect storm that's been created as a transition. While it wasn't apparent at the front end, now that there's been two different styles of recruiting, two different systems, this is the last year of transition. Then the balance will be reflected through the numbers."
Not long after finishing his mission, offensive tackle Dallas Reynolds became the starter as a true freshman. Reynolds was named freshman All-America in 2005 by rivals.com, but the Cougars are getting closer to developing enough talent and experience on the roster so they don't have to rely on recently returned missionaries to step in.
"We're getting to that point. There might, though injury, still be an occasion where that happens," Mendenhall said. "Or we might be surprised with a player who is just coming home that is more physically ready than what we thought he might be in such a short time. But in general, I would like it to be difficult for them and that we don't need them (right away) so they can mature, develop, get their bodies back in shape and settle into the roles they're ready for rather than play them too early."
One position where that is especially critical, of course, is at quarterback. Former Cougar QBs Matt Berry and John Beck were thrown into the fire after returning from missions without time to watch and learn. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman appreciates having a good mix of veterans and newcomers at his disposal.
"For good football programs that generate good quarterbacks, the quarterback position should be a marathon. It shouldn't be coming in and playing as a freshman," Doman said. "The guy that outlasts the other guy in the marathon should be the quarterback. The sophomore year is not ideal. The junior year is the ideal with two years to play and three years in the program. These guys just need to hang in there, develop and get better."
The offense, overall, is senior-laden, and that's readily apparent during spring practice.
"It's a veteran group and they know what they're doing when they come out here," Doman said. "There are no gimmicks or secrets. They are very consistent right now. It's taken three years to get to that point, and now it's there. These guys know exactly what to do, and they've worked their tails off. You're trying to build a foundation of a program, get things rolling and speed up each year. This year, it's going faster than it's ever gone."P>NOTES: The Cougars practiced Thursday in half-pads. Mendenhall said his team may or may not scrimmage today. "If we do, it might be situational, short-yardage. We're getting a lot done without getting anyone hurt." He added that if there is a scrimmage, it might not be held until next Friday.