PROVO — Just in case you were wondering, yes, the injury was as painful as it sounds.

BYU defensive back Scott Johnson suffered a double groin tear in a 45-42 victory at Colorado State last November. "Horrible" is how the senior defensive back describes it. Johnson missed the final three regular-season games, then saw limited action in the Las Vegas Bowl.

A week into spring drills, Johnson feels healthy and is playing football at full speed again.

"(The recovery) was hard. A lot of it was a mental thing, too, because when you start to try to recover, you feel like nothing is there. You feel like there's something anatomically or physically worse than it actually is. But the rehab went really well. It doesn't bother me any more," said the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder. "It feels great. I've been itching for this since the day it happened. I tried to come back and play in the bowl game but obviously I wasn't myself. I finally feel that I can open up and play football and be myself instead of trying to align differently or do something to hide my injury. It's fun to play on the secondary."

What's more, Johnson is playing a new position — free safety — after spending last season at cornerback. Johnson and junior Andrew Rich are manning the two safety spots.

"It's sweet. I think it's easier to go from corner to safety than safety to corner," Johnson said of the transition. "At corner, you have to learn all of those precise techniques and you have to run with the receivers one-on-one in the open field. That's helped me to move to safety where I can use my knowledge and my vision in seeing the field and understanding the game. That technique kind of falls into place."

Coach Bronco Mendenhall is happy to have Johnson back on the field.

"Prior to him getting hurt last year — and I rarely single out players — he was probably our most productive defensive player through the first six weeks last year," Mendenhall said. "Once he got hurt, it certainly did affect our defense. But how hard he worked to get back was pretty amazing. Really, because of his work ethic, his production and how smart he is, we think that's given him a chance to be our free safety for next year, which is the player that controls all of our adjustments in the secondary."

Mendenhall said Johnson's grasp of the position is similar to former Cougars Quinn Gooch and Kellen Fowler. "Scott's level of knowledge is the closest, if not surpassing, those two. So it seems like a natural fit."

With 2008 starting cornerback Brandon Howard out during spring drills for personal reasons, the Cougars are even thinner than usual at that position. But Mendenhall has an influx of corners coming in the fall, including junior college transfers Lee Aguirre and Brian Logan; and returned missionary Robbie Buckner, who redshirted in 2006.

"Our hope is that they are able to give us enough depth there to where we can keep Scott at safety," Mendenhall said.

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NOTES: BYU held its first practice this spring in full pads Friday. During a scrimmage between the first-team offense and first-team defense, a scuffle broke out between numerous players on both sides after Johnson drilled tight end Andrew George as George caught a pass over the middle. Mendenhall halted the scrimmage for a while and ordered his players to do "up-downs" before resuming the scrimmage .... Quarterback Max Hall completed 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards while backup Brenden Gaskins was 5 of 7 for 46 yards and a touchdown pass. Running back Harvey Unga rushed twice for 50 yards and a touchdown, and J.J. DiLuigi had a 12-yard TD run.