BYU football fans who have waited for almost three months -- since the Cougars defeated Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl -- for the annual spring game at LaVell Edwards Stadium are going to be sorely disappointed.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday after practice that the event on Saturday at LES will not resemble a spring game at all. In fact, Mendenhall would barely even call it a scrimmage.
"The scrimmage will be mostly players we are not counting on in the fall. Maybe we will evaluate some depth if we define positions where we want to see depth. It will be young players only. It won't be long, and it won't be a spring game. It will be a scrimmage, and it will be very short. Short scrimmage. Starts at noon, it will be over by one [o'clock]," he said.
Last year, the Cougars staged a memorable spring game in a snow storm, as Riley Nelson led his squad to the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
Mendenhall would later say coaches should have learned more about Nelson's leadership ability in that game, realizing that he could do things to rally his teammates that Jake Heaps could not.
But Mendenhall says the Cougars have had too many injuries in spring camp to risk getting more guys hurt in a full-scale spring game. Also, there are not enough healthy offensive linemen to sustain a long game.
Here's my report from Monday's practice, which can be summed up in two words: offensive frustration.
Nelson voiced his displeasure with how the last few practices have gone, primarily because so many mainline offensive guys are hurt that he's having to work with inexperienced freshmen while trying to move the ball against a fairly experienced defense.
"I mean, for example, we got a 240-pound tackle, and this was his ninth practice ever playing tackle. He's a freshman [going] against a three-year letterman. I mean, that's just what happens. When you are hitting your last step and coach is blowing the whistle, things get frustrating and so then you try and change, and you get outside of your normal play, and things get worse from there.
But that's not going to change. We gotta learn to deal with it, and if coach is gonna blow the whistle, there will be three straight sacks, and we will get the next group in there. So it has been frustrating now for the last couple of days," he said.
Someone asked Nelson if it is a "hodge-podge" offensive line.
"Boy, is it ever. I look at the guys I finished the season with last year, and there's one out there. And I am not talking about receivers. There's none left on the offensive line, and the receivers, there is only one left, and that's Cody [Hoffman], and they are scared to get him hurt, so he is only in there every few plays.
It is rough, but there's nothing we can do about it, so we gotta find a way to start making plays.
Guys got to start stepping up. Man, those are opportunities you kill for, to get reps and to get better in the spring.
You shouldn't shrink from that, you should rise to the occasion. And we need to fix that quick, because we are running out of practices."
Mendenhall said he can relate to Nelson's frustration. He is clearly frustrated by the number of injuries as well. But he's quick to remind that this is just spring ball -- it is supposed to be a development period -- and that the emphasis is on not getting more guys hurt.
"There are a lot of guys out, and the quick whistles are to try to keep our team as healthy as we can," Mendenhall said. "So yeah, [Nelson] is a competitor and he wants to score touchdowns. I would be upset if he wasn't frustrated ... Luckily, most of [the injured guys] are experienced, and if you were to say, would I have liked to have had them all spring? No question. Would we be a better team if they were all practicing in the spring? Absolutely. Am I frustrated that they are not out here? Yeah, more than I can say. But we have modified practice as much as we can, to find out things as best we can, and we are trying to develop players around them."
Marcus Mathews is more of a slot receiver than a tight end, but he's listed with the latter position group, and he's having a great spring. He's one guy who is taking advantage of being on the field while others recover and showing what he can do.
I mentioned in last night's blog that a walk-on tight end, Trevor Brown, suffered an ACL tear last week and is out for the season. Also, walk-on quarterback McCoy Hill has been moved to tight end just to give that position group more bodies, and because there are no reps available at quarterback for a guy who's sixth on the depth chart.
Regarding the tight end injuries, Mendenhall said:
"I have never seen anything like it. The good news is that they will all be back by fall. So that's good. The picture looks a lot different with eight of the offensive linemen back, and the three tight ends back, and Iona Pritchard back. All of a sudden, we could be hard to stop."