PROVO BYU wrapped up its first week of fall camp Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium with a run-oriented scrimmage that featured several key starters watching from the sidelines.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall opted not to play running back Harvey Unga, tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen and linebacker David Nixon as a precautionary measure.
As a result, a few other players emerged with impressive performances. Tight end Andrew George caught four passes for 79 yards, and freshman wide receiver O'Neill Chambers turned in the play of the day, hauling in a 40-yard pass down the sideline.
Running back J.J. DiLuigi turned in some nifty runs, gaining 31 yards on five carries. Then there was cornerback Brandon Howard, who picked off third-string quarterback Kurt McEuen and raced 40 yards for a touchdown.
"It was fun," George said of the team's first scrimmage of fall camp. "For the whole team, it was really nice because we were finally able to be physical and let things go and let some hits fly.
"Personally, I was a little gassed today. It was good to get a little conditioning in that respect. They sat Dennis today, which is great. He's a fantastic player, and we want him healthy for the season. I didn't find out until just right before. Dennis and I have been rotating every couple of plays during the fall so far. We got a little more work today. It was a great scrimmage."
The first-team offense scored one touchdown against the second-team defense on a 10-yard pass from Max Hall to fullback Kelly Bills. On the first-team offense's next possession, the Cougars' defense forced a three-and-out.
"The defense as a whole did a great job," Jorgensen said. "They're giving a lot of effort. Our defense is pretty fast out there. The guys up front need to do a better job of learning their assignments and learn the defense a little better."
Still, Jorgensen would have preferred to be out on the field.
"I wanted to be out there playing," he said. "This is the fun stuff, when you get to scrimmage and hit. When I was told I wasn't going to be taking any snaps, I was a little disappointed."
Chambers' big gain came on a play-action sequence, streaking past G Pittman, who let Chambers go by him. Hall found Chambers, who would have scored had he managed to stay in-bounds.
"(Pittman) bit on the run, and I sold the fake, took off and ran down the sidelines," said Chambers, who has seen considerable action with the first-team offense due to injuries to Austin Collie and Bryce Mahuika. "I was trying to keep my feet in, but I was way too far out of bounds. It was a good throw."
Hall completed 11 of 15 passes for 157 yards while backup Brenden Gaskins was 2-of-3 for 21 yards. The Cougars focused on the run game during the scrimmage.
"We made a focus on running the ball and stopping the run to see where we are," Mendenhall said. "The best part was we were able to assess that. I think we're decent on both sides, not dominant on either side."
Along with DiLuigi, running backs Bryan Kariya and Wayne Latu took several handoffs with mixed results. Mendenhall is trying to guard against injuries as the season creeps closer. The Cougars open the 2008 campaign on Aug. 30 against Northern Iowa.
"We held out a lot of players that we didn't have to evaluate any further. We gave a lot of chances for younger players," Mendenhall explained. "I was hoping we had more depth than we currently had and more readiness by some of the younger players.
"That was maybe the striking thing that I took away. There is some ability, but clearly a lot of execution work that needs to happen with our younger players to provide the depth we're going to need.
"I like the athleticism," he said. "Right now, the assignments have a long ways to go. That will be our focus during the early part of next week, trying to get the younger players caught up."
BYU also gave its two kickers a chance to perform. Freshman Justin Sorensen missed a 57-yarder that sailed wide left, but he later drilled a field goal from 48 yards to close the scrimmage. Sophomore Mitch Payne nailed a 28-yard field goal.
What's Jorgensen's assessment of the first week of camp?
"I think we're definitely where we need to be," he said. "The great thing about this team is, there is so much effort being spent out there on the field, which is great to see."We still have a long ways to go, don't get me wrong. But where we're at right now, and the effort we're seeing with everybody, it's an amazing sight to see. We're in a good spot right now, but we have a long ways to go."