Our strongest player is probably (offensive lineman) Brock Stringham. Tejan was his training partner and he can handle anything that Brock can handle as a true freshman. —Bronco Mendenhall
PROVO — Hanging in the lobby of the BYU football office is a TV monitor that continuously counts down the time left before the Cougars kick off the season at Connecticut.
It provides the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the opener. As of Tuesday afternoon, the countdown stood at 17 days.
“It seems like (fall) camp has gone on forever already,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall after Tuesday’s session.
Nearly two weeks into fall camp, there are still plenty of questions about Mendenhall’s team.
One of them is, just who exactly will be in uniform on Aug. 29 when BYU faces UConn?
Several projected starters — like linebackers Bronson Kaufusi, Zac Stout and Manoa Pikula and offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch — haven't been practicing much, if at all, for various reasons while running back Jamaal Williams has been suspended for the UConn game. Then on Monday, in a strange twist, wide receiver Devon Blackmon announced, via Twitter, that he, too, has been suspended for the season-opener.
“Rules are rules. Abide by them or suffer the consequences. Looking forward to the Texas game,” Blackmon tweeted.
Later, Blackmon clarified by tweeting he will not play against UConn. Even later than that, Blackmon's Twitter account was deleted.
Asked for a comment about Blackmon’s status, Mendenhall repeated what he said before during fall camp about dealing with such matters.
“No, I won’t (comment), actually. Any of the matters with our team discipline-wise will be internal,” Mendenhall said Tuesday.
Then the coach added, “It seems like this generation likes to have its own press conferences through selfies, etc. I’m not going to do that.”
How many players will be suspended, or out with an injury, for the opener? At this point, that is unclear.
Meanwhile, on the field, with projected starters being held out, and with coaches fostering intense competition, several players have stepped up.
For instance, linebacker Harvey Langi, who transferred from Utah after his mission, has been practicing with the first team at mike linebacker. “He looks really good," Mendenhall said. "He’s done a nice job.”
And freshman Tejan Koroma has emerged as one of the best offensive linemen in camp.
“Overwhelmed and behind and confused to begin with,” Mendenhall said of Koroma's camp experience. “Currently, he’s running with our number ones at center. He’s doing a really nice job. Rapid growth, rapid progress, really handling it well.”
Mendenhall said the 6-foot, 255-pound Koroma possesses uncommon strength for a freshman.
“Our strongest player is probably (offensive lineman) Brock Stringham. Tejan was his training partner and he can handle anything that Brock can handle as a true freshman.”
Overall, Mendenhall likes the depth and talent he has on the O-line.
“It’s just nice to have more of them. I counted 15 players that all have capabilities,” he said. “That depth is changing almost daily. The competition is really helpful. Places we thought were completely solid and already established at center, there are changes there through competition. Same thing is happening at guard and tackle. I like it like that.”
Freshman Trey Dye, who can play at wide receiver, in the slot or in the backfield, continued to impress Tuesday, catching a touchdown pass from Christian Stewart. His 71-yard TD catch-and-run at last Saturday’s scrimmage was nullified due to a penalty.
“We still have to tell him where to align, but if you can get him the ball, it’s hard to catch him,” Mendenhall said of Dye. “We’ll put a lot more time and effort into his assignments. One of the challenges we have is with our freshmen in the summer bridge program. Their classes go into two-a-days, and their finals are this week. They’re managing both. That kind of stunts their growth in terms of the football part.”
This is how running backs coach Mark Atuaia evaluates Dye: “Imagine a fire hose and the spout turned on. My man is drinking out of that thing. Water’s coming out everywhere. But there’s no doubt he is talented. He might have to (play) this season. You never know. The thing is to get him ready to play. Only time will tell. He has the talent and skill set to do it. It’s whether he will be able to grasp all the things we throw at him. That’s a daunting task to ask of a freshman. We’ll see how it goes.”
Speaking of freshmen, when asked about the highly touted trio of outside linebackers — Fred Warner, Troy Hinds and Tyler Cook — Mendenhall said, “I think they’ll all play this year.”
And so the August grind goes on. "It's a doldrum day," Mendenhall said of Tuesday's practice.
But, he added: “The team is relatively healthy, progressing, peaking toward scrimmage Friday night. I feel good about where we are.”
Seventeen days and counting.