A lot of guys desperate to change things, so there was a lot of competition, and guys getting carried away a little bit, here and there, but that’s part of football. —BYU head coach Kalani Sitake
PROVO — A 4-9 football season has left a lot of bad taste and a lot of urgency to get things right within the BYU football program, with coaches making significant changes throughout the offseason in hopes of getting back on course.
The Cougars opened spring practices Monday, with a lot of new coaches and several new approaches in what BYU coaches hope will eventually yield much more positive results.
“A lot of guys desperate to change things," said BYU coach Kalani Sitake when asked to describe what he observed the first day. "So there was a lot of competition, and guys getting carried away a little bit, here and there, but that’s part of football. We just deal with it and move on."
The open portion of practice saw a lot of different players getting reps, and a more serious tone, perhaps, than in past years. A lot of the tone set was set forth by the offensive side of the ball, with senior linebacker Butch Pau'u taking note.
“Their mindset it to start winning now,” Pau’u said. “That means to start winning in practice. Start winning in the classroom and every aspect of our lives, so that translates over to when the season comes around.”
The offense won several battles during Monday's non-padded practice, with standouts including quarterbacks Kody Wilstead and freshman Stacy Conner tossing some touchdown passes, along with receivers like Tariq Buchanan and Matt Bushman on the receiving end. It's one day in, though, and a lot of work needs to be done — evidenced by several interceptions being tossed, along with other mistakes that always accompany a first spring practice session, and particularly so when that practice session involves a new coaching staff and a new offense.
But overall, Sitake was impressed with what he saw from the offense, relatively speaking.
“I thought it was one of the better practices we’ve had on day one,” Sitake said. “A lot of that is because we have great leadership with Jeff Grimes, and the coaching staff has done a great job offensively.”
As for Grimes, he liked some aspects, but knows there's a long way to go.
“I’m very pleased with the energy, but not the execution,” Grimes said, while noting the latter is the easier of the two to fix.
Specific areas of execution involve installing an offense Grimes hopes will keep opposing defenses much more on their toes, with lessons learned, in that regard, from former offensive coordinators worked under, which includes former LSU OC Matt Canada.
“Shifting and motioning is something that can disguise what you’re going to do and gives the defense a little bit more to think about before the ball is snapped,” Grimes said.
The defensive standouts on day one included defensive backs Austin Lee and Isaiah Armstrong, both of whom logged interceptions during the open portion of practice.
All of the quarterbacks on the roster threw passes, except for senior Tanner Mangum, who did some work early in practice, yet was limited, after sustaining an Achilles injury late last season.
“It will really be the summer until he’s full speed,” Grimes said.
Grimes will hone in on how the quarterbacks will fall out in a depth chart throughout practices, much like he will with every position, noting those who perform well one day will inevitably be granted more reps the next, until positions are solidified.
“You get 15 spring practices. That’s not a lot, and you’ve got to come out with the mindset every day that you’re going to get better, and that you’re going to take a competitive philosophy to each practice,” Grimes said. “You don’t do that, you find yourself in the back, looking forward.”
As for the ultimate goal of the offense, Sitake stated it relatively simply, “Just a lot of points on the board. That’s all I care about. Bottom line. Minimize mistakes, especially the mental ones, and score a lot of points.”
The Cougars will next practice on Wednesday and then Friday, and follow the three-practice-per-week format through most of the spring practice session.