Provo • Having wrapped up preseason football camp with the traditional slip-n-slide activity after practice on Saturday, BYU football players went to a water park Monday while coaches started game-planning for the Aug. 30 opener against Washington State.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall pronounced it a successful camp, but acknowledged that won’t be fully known until a month from now, when the Cougars conclude the rugged first third of their regular-season schedule with an extremely difficult Thursday night test Sept. 20 at No. 24 Boise State.
Poor starts the past two seasons —1-2 last year and 1-4 in 2010 — had Mendenhall re-examining his usual camp strategy of going light on hitting and contact drills, but in the end he stuck with that formula, preferring to err on the side of avoiding as many injuries as possible. The Cougars donned full pads only twice, both times for scrimmages at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
There was “not one significant injury caused by practice for all of camp. I don’t ever remember saying that, which is really good. There are some minor injuries, but no majors, so I would say that’s a great thing,” Mendenhall said. “We still have work to do, but we have a healthy team going into game prep. That was my goal.”
Nearly a dozen key players on both sides of the ball didn’t even participate in those scrimmages, which means players such as Kyle Van Noy, Brandon Ogletree, Ross Apo and Cody Hoffman will enter the opener having not tackled, or been tackled, since the Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa last December.
With 29 seniors and returning starters at all but a few positions, the Cougars entered camp with few questions regarding personnel. Mendenhall said during camp he might name starters at some of the spots in question, but in the end decided to wait until the official depth chart is released on Monday of game week.
So here are our best guesses at who emerged in some selected position battles:
Right guard/center • Due to minor injuries and a player failing to pass the camp-opening fitness test, the starting offensive line didn’t really take shape until the final few days of camp. With ultratalented freshman Ryker Mathews ticketed to replace All-American Matt Reynolds at left tackle, the only real openings are at center and right guard.
Junior Houston Reynolds, sidelined by sore shins much of camp, seemingly eked past sophomore Blair Tushaus for the center position; sophomore Brock Stringham probably seized the right guard spot. Others who will play include senior Ryan Freeman, sophomores Solomone Kafu, Famika Anae and Michael Yeck, freshman Terrance Alletto and junior Manaaki Vaitai.
Fourth receiver • BYU names its receiver positions Z, X and H, and the clear-cut starters will be Ross Apo (Z), Hoffman (X) and JD Falsev (H). The biggest question is who becomes the first receiver in after those three, although that’s tricky because it obviously depends on which of the three comes out first. That said, freshman Mitch Mathews was seemingly emerging until an old clavicle injury flare-up sidelined him.
Don’t be surprised if it is freshman Dylan Collie, or perhaps converted quarterback Alex Kuresa. Also in the mix: junior walk-on Dallin Cutler (missed camp with hamstring issues), sophomore returned LDS missionary Brett Thompson, junior Skyler Ridley and freshman walk-on Cody Raymond.
Redshirt freshman Terenn Houk hurt his cause with some drops later in camp, while Kurt Henderson and Jordan Smith moved into the picture as well with plays during the scrimmages, especially Henderson.
Strongside linebacker • Probably the tightest position battle is here, as junior Spencer Hadley and sophomore Alani Fua rotated with the ones most of camp. Game experience probably puts Hadley over the top, although Mendenhall has said both players will play a lot.
Tight end • Junior Austin Holt was the most consistent performer in camp, and ran with the ones most of the time, along with bulked-up Marcus Mathews, who missed nearly a week due to illness. Don’t be surprised if Mathews is used more like a receiver, again. Injury-plagued Richard Wilson, junior Kaneakua Friel and Devin Mahina (when he returns from a broken hand), are also possibilities.