Provo • For the first time in his collegiate career, BYU senior Riley Nelson enters spring practice as his team’s firmly entrenched No. 1 quarterback.
Nelson debuted in his new role Monday, when the Cougars opened two weeks of spring practice.
Asked what’s different about entering spring as the starter, Nelson shrugged and said, “You get to take reps with guys who have more experience. That’s probably the only thing.”
According to coach Bronco Mendenhall, one of the goals of spring practice is to establish a two-deep roster “... with trustworthy players we think we’ll be able to count on in a starting or backup role.”
Clearly, Mendenhall trusts Nelson, who led the Cougars to a 10-3 record last season after a shaky 2-2 start under then-freshman Jake Heaps, who has transferred.
“I like Riley,” Mendenhall said. “He’s tough, and I think the team believes in him. He’s brought us from behind a couple of times in pretty tough circumstances. He has great leadership.”
Lark in the wing
Nelson might be the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback ahead of back-up James Lark, but his status has not changed how he will compete over the next two weeks.
“Mentally ... I approach it like I still have somebody nipping at my heels, which I do,” Nelson said. “My position is not safe. People like to say or write that I’m the starter, but not really.
“Every position is a battle, and James [Lark] is very good quarterback who can perform and play, along with any other quarterback who may surprise in spring ball.”
Cougars show spirit
Although the first practice lacked crispness, Mendenhall liked the spirit.
“There’s just so much teaching the first day,” he said. “... We don’t expect great execution on Day 1, but we do really want a chance to teach and get players a chance to get reintegrated into their spots and schemes.
“By Friday, it should look quite a bit different in terms of execution. So we’ll teach, teach, teach for three days and, hopefully, the execution will be noticeably different” by the end of the week.
BYU practiced without pads and with limited contact, but the two-hour session included one brief after-the-whistle scrum between offensive and defensive players.
“I think the team wants to be good,” Mendenhall said. “... I think it shows Riley is very competitive and there are a lot of defensive players who are competitive. So that looks like an identity that might be emerging.”
Said Nelson: “... I think it was more the excitement of Day 1. Everybody’s thinking about a million things instead of being cool, calm and collected. Hopefully, we can calm down as we go along.”