1 of 23
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougar quarterbacks Riley Nelson (13) Jake Heaps (9) and James Lark (3) pose during media day in Provo Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.

PROVO -- What kind of football team will BYU field when it opens the season in Mississippi in less than a month?

We'll be closer to answers today when Bronco Mendenhall puts his squad through the first major scrimmage of fall camp.

"We need to come out with a better idea of exactly where we are execution-wise, and then we also have to make some personnel decisions," said Mendenhall Friday of today's 10:15 a.m. scrimmage.

So far, the offense has looked like it should with very smooth big plays and impressive execution.


The defense, looking to rebuild its secondary, has given up some big plays but it has also delivered impressive stops, registered "touch sacks," pass breakups, interceptions and big hits since putting on pads.

Cornerback Corby Eason says this kind of camp is how it should be.

"This is a lot better this way to have practices where both the defense and offense have good days," he said. "It is not good if one is dominating the other."

And after the first week of drills that parity has been the trademark of the Cougars in Camp 2011 with the offense slightly ahead.

What we've seen is Daniel Sorensen step in with Mike Hague as the safeties and they've looked serviceable.

We've seen secondary coach Nick Howell shuffle in a cadre of cornerbacks, trying to beat out Eason and Robbie Buckner, who are the early camp favorites. Preston Hadley has seen time opposite Eason, while Jordan Johnson and Cameron Comer have backed Eason up.

The secondary will be the deal to watch today.

It is the most unsettled area on the team. But there are choices, and in Provo, having choices with a secondary is a unique luxury.

Eason says he's feeling the pressure, but he's not panicking. He is confident he can hold on to the starting spot.

On the other side, JC transfer Joe Sampson, DeQuan Everett and Skye PoVey have seen time playing with the second and third string.

There is a sifting going on with the secondary.

It's a process whereby a coach and staff place as many guys in play as possible and then break down the good, bad and ugly.

This started before practice began, back when Howell and Mendenhall made judgments on who came to camp in the best shape and who had shown the best dedication and attitude during the summer. There are brownie points given for hustle, passion, and teamwork as well as making plays.

The gassers Mendenhall has defensive players run is part of the sifting. On Friday, Mendenhall explained how he holds an entire offense or defense accountable when one player makes a mistake and earns a negative point -- everyone has to do extra work.

Talent that's not plied with attitude isn't worth much to this coaching staff. This makes the first week of camp a chess match as messages are sent, received and applied or ignored.

It's kind of fun to watch this unfold primarily because of enhanced competition in the secondary.

If the Cougars played a game today, I think Sorensen would start at the KAT position. Mendenhall hinted as much earlier this week. Sorensen has the size and speed to make a lot of plays. He closes fast to the ball, fills gaps, and basically has a nice brain for the game.

A guy I've been impressed with since he came from Pine View High is Carter Mees, and it's not just because he likes golf. He is very athletic and has great instincts for making plays. Mees plays the KAT safety and has seen time with the first defense. So has the talented Jray Galea'i.

Galea'i carries the hopes and dreams of family and friends on the North Shore of Oahu. He has a ton of followers who are closely looking and rooting for him to find a spot. He is a great athlete looking to prove himself a football player. The last great Cougar player out of Kahuku High was safety Aaron Francisco. People have mentioned Galea'i and Francisco in the same sentence over the years.

I have a theory about players on rosters that might fit into the selection of BYU secondary players as camp progresses. You have athletes and you have football players. They aren't always the same.

You can have a gifted athlete on the field that may not fully understand the nuances of the game and struggles to find a solid feel for how a play develops and how he can impact it. He may run and jump with record measurements, but his reaction time is always off and his mind isn't in the game.

On the other hand, I've seen players on a field that may not be the best athlete, but they simply make plays because they are simply football players. I'd put Sorensen, Mees and Hague in this category. They're football players and decent athletes.

Hague and Travis Uale are battling one another for the free-safety spot. Whichever proves to be the better football player -- not necessarily the better athlete -- will win out. Both are very good athletes.

Eason's got it right: BYU appears to be in good shape if it can avoid injuries. Camp is going like it should with the defense and offense having their moments.

The bottom line about this BYU team is both the offensive and defensive line are strengths, the linebacker corps is as deep as I've seen in a Cougar team and starting quarterback Jake Heaps appears confident and "on" and has a 6-foot-3 receiver in Ross Apo, who has been timed at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash.

We'll see what Mendenhall gets out of it all today.

Should be interesting.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com