Rebuilding BYU's secondary may be the No. 1 agenda item this spring for defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but they're in no rush to make any announcements.
"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon," is how Mendenhall puts it.
"There is no cavalry," Hill said of when it comes to placing a new secondary on the field. "There is no rush. We have a lot of time and they're going out there and performing well. We won't worry about a starting lineup until sometime in August."
The Cougars finished 11-2 with a bowl win in crossing the 2007 finish line with a secondary comprised of four athletes who walked on before earning scholarships.
Mendenhall likes to point out this shows where his program has progressed that players are capable of plugging holes in short notice and performing at a high level.
Hill is the sort of coach who just as soon have no names or numbers on jerseys, establishing a core of players who are interchangeable as Nike socks on a daily basis. If one guy goes down, another steps in and it doesn't matter if he's big, fast, tall or short.
In the meantime, there are bodies who play in first-team positions every day. Scott Johnson and Brandon Howard are the corners and Kellen Fowler and David Tafuna or Jordan Pendleton are the safeties. But G Pittman, Gary Nagy, Brandon Bradley and Brannon Brooks get work at corner spots and Snow transfer Andrew Rich, Steven Thomas, Chris Warner and Jameson Frazier are among faces used in the safety positions.
"Guys are competing well," said Hill. "We don't have a lot of depth, so when a guy goes down, we go all the way down to a walkon.
"We're competing. We struggled a little bit (Friday), but we're fine other wise."
The biggest challenge for Hill with BYU's secondary is preparing players to recognize what's going on in a game setting who is attacking them how and why and what to do about it.
"I think we've come a long ways," said Pittman, a freshman. "We've learned our positions and I'm really confident in our practices this spring. I'm really confident the way things have gone and will be in the fall. It's very competitive between the ones and the twos and coach Hill is all over us to get better."
Said Hill, "The biggest thing is getting the younger guys to understand how to play the game. They know their responsibilities, they know where they're going, now, they have to ask themselves, ' how do I play the game, what kind of moves is the offense making against me, what kind of calls are they making against me,' it's the game within a game."
Hill said the veteran guys are obviously doing better than those who just got here and he won't break down guys individually for the press.
"We're doing fine, we're OK."
One aspect of football he believes the entire defense needs to enhance is to be more physical.
And that's a challenge because of the emphasis on non-contact to prevent injuries. You can't unleash the dogs and teach them to attack, if the work is thud pads, hold ups and no take downs.
"We need to get more physical as a whole unit," he said. " The finesse part is a problem at all, not a worry but we need to get more physical, we need to pick it up."As for his first spring as official defensive coordinator, Hill said within the inner circle of the program, nothing has changed, he's doing what he's always done. "What's different is the title and now people on the outside are aware, otherwise, it's the same. I enjoy it. It's a challenge, but I'm enjoying it."
Inside BYU's spring camp
PLAYER ON THE RISE: WR Spencer Hafoka is a 6-0 freshman right off an LDS mission and his conditioning is impressive as he continues to prepare himself for a role on the team. Mendenhall praised Hafoka and another missionary, Luke Ashworth, as the model for the program transitioning from veterans like Austin Collie and Michael Reed to the next generation of players coming off missions.
INJURY REPORT: Safety Jordan Pendleton has missed action for more than a week after suffering a ligament pull in his rib cage. Mendenhall said he could not label the injury but it has kept him from practice because it limits his flexibility to perform. He made a lot of positive progress and I wish he was out there, said the coach.
NOTES: If Mendenhall had his way he'd end spring practices right now after Tuesday's session. We don't have any more to prove or get done, he said. He described Saturday's Blue-White scrimmage as a great opportunity for young players to show what they can do and Max Hall and other veterans will play sparingly if at all. If Max plays, there won't be anyone within 15 yards of him.In a brief 11 on 11 period, Hall hit Collie for a 80-yard bomb on the first play and finished 8 of 11 for 136 yards.
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