PROVO —How do you replace Preston Hadley and what will post-Ziggy life be for BYU’s defense?
Those questions began to receive more attention Monday as Bronco Mendenhall opened spring football practice. Tragically, during the first practice session Monday, a prime candidate to replace Hadley got injured: Newcomer Trent Trammell.
On one of BYU’s best defenses ever, Hadley was the best cover corner for the Cougars in 2012. It's a program that hasn’t always fielded guys who could man that position with agility, speed and the required acumen.
But Hadley did it. And did it well.
This spring, BYU secondary coach Nick Howell will once again turn to the junior college ranks for a possible answer to that boundary corner position. Hadley came to BYU from Snow College. Trammell is a corner who enrolled at BYU in January and Monday, he was on his way to making an impact.
Trammell hurt his knee Monday and he was in tears on the sideline after a long examination of his left leg by medical personnel. BYU officials said Trammell will undergo tests on his knee Tuesday to determine the extent of his injury.
To say this injury is a set back would be an understatement. BYU needs an impact guy in Hadley's absence.
“He’s impressed me,” said Howell of Trammell and his work the past two months. “He came to school in great shape. He’s a hard-nosed kid and has not shied away in the hardest offseason I’ve seen here.”
One of the first things Mendenhall looks for in athletes in his program is how they adjust and perform in the offseason. It reveals how they’ll deal with the rest of challenges that beset players during their careers.
So, in philosophical terms before Monday, Trammell fit the Mendenhall ideal.
“The work capacity that they’ve had to endure here is huge and you wonder how a JC guy, just coming in, is going to handle it, being exposed to how hard they are going to have to work. He has definitely met expectations as far as I’ve been concerned,” said Howell over the weekend.
Howell said Trammell, who is 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, had showed abilities they recruited him for.
The early assessment before Monday? “He’s got good change of direction. He has closing speed, and I’m excited about him, and there are other guys who are going to compete for Preston’s spot. It’s a matter of getting the right combination of guys out there, but so far I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen of him.”
Other candidates to replace Hadley include Cameron Comer, Skye PoVey and a College of the Canyon's defensive back Sam Lee, who should be available in the fall.
That’s not the only issue on defense this spring. Finding replacements for inside linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga will be big, plus finding a noseguard to step in for Romney Fuga will be a challenge, although the return of Eathyn Manumaleuna will make that easier.
A very noticeable void will be filling in for now famous NFL Combine and Senior Bowl media darling Ziggy Ansah. His story seems to find more fuel every day. The latest Ziggy news over the weekend from his agent is the 6-foot-6, 272-pound native of Ghana posted such impressive numbers, including a 4.63 forty, without having any specialized combine training because he wanted to stay in classes at BYU.
BYU may fill some of Ansah’s media attractiveness with star linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a national honors candidate in 2013. Van Noy will also produce athletically as evidenced in his game-saving antics in the Poinsettia Bowl.
But how will the Cougars find a pass rusher with the skills of Ansah for Mendenhall’s defense?
Howell says his first look will be to an athlete who will miss the first few weeks of spring football, Bronson Kaufusi.
As a high school player at Timpview, Kaufusi was ranked the No 18 defensive end in the country. At the time, he was 220 pounds at 6-foot-6 and ran a 4.7 time in the forty. Now he is 260 pounds, kept a lot of his speed, and his basketball agility work can’t hurt his footwork.
As the Cougars prepare for the WCC basketball tournament in Las Vegas this weekend with Kaufusi as a physical leader off the bench, the football team awaits his return so he can attempt to do Ziggy-like stuff.
“I guess you look to Bronson,” said Howell. “Your first thoughts are to him, a guy who has many of the same kind of abilities, not identical, but the same in terms of size, strength and ability to rush the passer and stop the run.
“As far as our defensive line goes, it’s a place we have to zero-in. We have to replace Romney Fuga, we have to replace Ziggy and obviously we have Ethan coming back, which is a major bonus, but my mindset is we go see how much is Bronson going to develop.”
Howell was impressed with Kaufusi this past season as a pass rusher and playmaker, and it especially stood out to him because of his limited preparation. This time last year, Kaufusi was on his LDS Church mission.
“He came in as a freshman right off his mission by a few weeks before fall camp in 2012 and now he’s going to have a chance, once basketball is over, to have an offseason, which will make a big difference for him this year. As a freshman he played a lot for us, but he didn’t have an offseason to prepare and condition and get back to football after his mission. I’d expect him to have big strides this offseason.”
The post-Ziggy/Hadley era has begun.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.