Harvey Unga is a far more polished running back than he was last August, when he began his career and set the BYU rushing record for a freshman with 1,272 yards.

Some might argue Unga wasn't used enough in 2007. The 13-game campaign of 2007 taught Unga some lessons, however, as he enters his sophomore season as a rookie no more.

Unga accepts the challenge that he needs to improve this season, that he can perform at a higher level this time around.

The Cougars resume practice today with one session in the afternoon.

The former Timpview High star still experiences some soreness from a sprained ankle he suffered in the Utah game last November.

"I'm trying to get out a few kinks, it's sore a little," he said. "I've tried to take a rest, take some training on it, but the bottom line is I'm ready to go, it's not that big a deal."

The MWC freshman of the year averaged 94.4 yards per game and scored 13 touchdowns on 244 carries. He liked how BYU's offense, which returns 10 of 11 starters, came out Saturday for the first outing this fall.

"I think we've brought it up a few notches as an offense. But I was really impressed with the defense."

If Saturday is any indication of where the Cougar defense is at the start of drills, perhaps head coach Bronco Mendenhall's statement to the media in Las Vegas wasn't as bold as it appeared: He's now replacing departees with capable bodies and doesn't expect a drop off in performance.

The Cougars said goodbye to linebackers Kelly Poppinga and Bryan Kehl and lost both corners and the most experienced safeties on the squad following the win over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"But honestly, our defense didn't look like it lost a beat out there today," said Unga. "I was impressed with our linebackers and secondary. Our defensive front has some guys back who didn't play last year or in spring, and they were impressive too.

Matt Bauman, who will miss some early practice time at middle linebacker due to an injury suffered in a scooter accident, was replaced by Matt Ah You and, behind him, inside linebacker coach Paul Tidwell liked what he saw out of freshmen Iona Pritchard and Spencer Hadley.

"I thought both those scholarship recruits had a good first practice, and I also liked Shane Hunter, who walked on out of Snow College," Tidwell said. "I think he can end up helping us."

On the outside, veteran David Nixon is playing without his chief backup, veteran Grant Nelson, who had surgery and will require a year to heal.

"This is a time we might have to rely on a guy like freshman Michael Alisa, (another Timpview High product)," Tidwell said. "He is athletic enough, he's fast enough and smart enough. He'll just have to step up and help us at a position we need some depth."

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