PROVO — Since the end of last season, BYU has lost a host of linebackers.

Bryan Kehl, Markell Staffieri, Kelly Poppinga and Chris Bolden graduated. Terrance Hooks suffered a season-ending injury during spring drills. Grant Nelson has been sidelined for the season due to an illness, Matt Bauman was injured in a scooter accident a couple of weeks ago and Shawn Doman has been limited by turf toe.

But that doesn't mean the Cougars are decimated at that position, thanks to a host of fresh faces. Some true freshmen and other unproven players have BYU looking strong at linebacker.

"I'm not going to stand here and say we're fine without (Bauman, Nelson and others)," said senior inside linebacker David Nixon. "However, life goes on. You have to make adjustments. This preps us for the season. There are going to be guys who will get injured, and we'll need other guys to step in. That's just what we're doing right now."

Vic So'oto, who switched from tight end to linebacker during the offseason, is playing well, as is Snow Junior College transfer Coleby Clawson. In fact, Clawson is making a push to be a starter.

"He is one of the best-conditioned players on our team," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Clawson. "From what I've been told by our players, he had one of the best summers of anyone. He did very, very well in the conditioning test. He's been impressive thus far. He's moving up and up and up."

Junior Matt Ah You has taken over Bauman's spot for now (Bauman is expected to return to action soon), while Michael Alisa has turned heads as Nixon's backup.

Inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell is impressed with the efforts of true freshmen Spencer Hadley and Iona Pritchard.

"They're doing an outstanding job," Tidwell said. "They've been here since July, and they're learning the defense fast. Both of them could help us on special teams, and, as they get more experience, they could end up playing a little bit this year on defense. Those two have come in ready. They're in good shape, and they're the right kids. We're excited about those two."

Meanwhile, BYU coaches are making plans in the event there are more injuries. So'oto and Clawson have been getting some playing time at Nixon's spot as understudies.

"We need to prepare for keeping the best 11 players on the field," Mendenhall said. "As much as we can, we'll prepare for contingencies. There are certain positions that we think we need to prepare more than others."

FIRST DAY OF FULL PADS: For the first time since fall camp opened, BYU will don full pads today. And not a moment too soon. Mendenhall cut Wednesday's practice short after there were a couple of hard hits delivered by defensive players that Mendenhall deemed inappropriate for a non-scrimmage session.

"I stopped it early because I didn't think our team was handling it appropriately," Mendenhall said. "They were getting more and more aggressive. I like the practice — maybe the best one to date up until that point. Then there were a couple of shots that were taken that I didn't think needed to be. There was a teachable moment there that I thought the team could benefit from. What they want to do most is play football. If they can't play football, maybe they'll listen to the rules of engagement in the team periods."

Even though the Cougars will be in full pads today, Mendenhall will not allow much contact.

"I'm not going to let them go live. There might be a very similar thing happen tomorrow that happened today," he said. "Eventually they'll learn what scrimmage tempo means and what team tempo means. I would be worried, probably, if I didn't have to make the point like I'm doing now because I think they're anxious to be physical and run into each other. I expect something similar tomorrow, but they don't know that. That's part of early camp practices."

VAKAPUNA UPDATE: Running back Fui Vakapuna, who is nursing a hamstring injury, participated in the noncontact 11-on-11 drills Wednesday. "He did a lot better today," said running backs coach Lance Reynolds. "Because he could move around like he did today, I don't think it's real bad. He's limited right now."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com