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BYU's search for free safety goes on
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This is what happens when the starter graduates after a stellar career, a second-teamer leaves on a church mission and another backup is kicked off the team.

BYU is without a free safety.

"It is going to take some more time [to find one]," coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged Monday.

At the least, the Cougars don't have one with much experience as they wrap up spring ball on Saturday having searched hard for a replacement for the graduated Scott Johnson. His backup in 2009, Craig Bills, is speaking Spanish in the Ventura, Calif., mission and another candidate when last year began, Shiloah Te'o, is at Washington after getting the heave-ho for not coming clean about an arrest on suspicion of DUI last fall.

The coaching staff knew the cupboard was bare, but couldn't find or land a suitable one in the junior college ranks over the winter. They did sign a couple of high school prospects -- Kory Gaines, of Loganville, Ga., and Jordan Johnson, of Massachusetts, who was referred to them by Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

But expecting a true freshman to play immediately at a signal-calling position such as free safety is probably unreasonable.

Senior Andrew Rich started every game at strong safety last season, and could move over to free safety when he's fully recovered from offseason shoulder and ankle surgery, Mendenhall acknowledged, but that would only put an inexperienced player at the spot BYU calls KAT (strong) safety.

"Free safety, really it is going to depend on when Andrew Rich gets healthy, and then finding out who the next safety is, regardless of position," Mendenhall said. "So if the next safety is a KAT [safety] then Andrew Rich could play free safety. And if the next safety happens to be a free, then Andrew could play KAT.

"So of the group of three or four safeties right now who are competing, one of them has to clearly emerge as the No. 2. I am talking about No. 2 overall, and that will allow us to make up the difference with Andrew."

The candidates are junior Steven Thomas, junior Travis Uale and redshirt freshman Jray Galea'i.

"It is about dead even [between those three]," Mendenhall said. "Much like our quarterback situation, each has different strengths. But none at this point have established themselves clear enough for me to say, 'This is who it is going to be.' "

The Cougars are as deep at cornerback as they have ever been, but Mendenhall said he would prefer to not move a bigger corner -- such as senior Brandon Bradley -- over to safety.

"I like our corner play, and I like the kind of the depth we have right there, so it will probably have to be a significant drop-off from one of those safeties for me to feel like right now I need one of the corners to be there," he said.

As for Rich, he says he will play whichever position the coaches believe is best for the team.

"Now that I have played KAT for a year, I like that position," he said. But "nothing is certain."

drew@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">drew@sltrib.com

Help wanted: Free safety

BYU's candidates

Steven ThomasJunior5-11/176Gets most first-team reps in practice
Jray Galea'iRedshirt freshman6-0/193Most athletic of the candidates
Travis UaleJunior6-2/195Former Ute has shown potential
Kory GainesFreshman5-9/170Still at Grayson High in Loganville, Ga.
Jordan JohnsonFreshman5-10/175Also played QB and RB in high school

BYU Sports blog

Concerns and fears over the relative strength of BYU's offensive line for the 2010 season are greatly exaggerated, line coach Mark Weber told me on Wednesday. http://blogs.sltrib.com/byu

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