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BYU football: Running game explosive as ever in spring practice

Published March 13, 2014 4:16 pm

Spring football • Williams, Hill both look sharp on ground.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • He was going against second- and third-stringers in BYU's fifth spring practice, but Jamaal Williams took a handoff in an 11-on-11 drill Wednesday and sprinted untouched 70 yards for an easy touchdown. Earlier, quarterback Taysom Hill and a backup running back, Nate Carter, also had long runs.

One-third of BYU's 2014 spring camp is officially in the books, and it is clear that running the football is still the offense's strength.

As expected, the passing game is way behind — mostly because most of the guys who will be catching passes in the fall are coming off offseason surgeries (Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo) or haven't arrived on campus yet (UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie, Riverside CC transfer Devon Blackmon) .

Wednesday, for instance, the first team receivers were Kurt Henderson, a junior from St. George, and Colby Pearson, a sophomore walk-on from Blackfoot, Idaho. Highly touted Grossmont College transfer Nick Kurtz caught a few passes with the second unit, while speedster Michael Davis suffered a mild ankle sprain last week that has limited his reps.

"We worked really hard," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said after Wednesday's practice. "Significant progress [from] a week ago. It looked more like football today, on both sides of the ball." Mendenhall said any time the defense leaves a gap open, Williams or Hill takes it all the way on them.

As for the passing game, Mendenhall said Kurtz "continues to improve at wideout, which I am really encouraged about" and tight end Devin Mahina "is starting to play well. So there are a lot of good things happening."

Next tackling machine?

Inside linebacker Uani 'Unga led BYU in tackles last year with 143. In 2012, another ILB, Brandon Ogletree, led the team with 102 stops.

Inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell said Wednesday that junior Manoa Pikula is ready to fill their shoes.

"I think [Pikula] could be the next great one here," Tidwell said.

Getting a few starts last year when Tyler Beck was injured, Pikula made 31 tackles, including five for losses, and had three sacks.

"It has been a feast around here for the last four years at inside 'backer," Tidwell said. "I've had a lot of good ones."

Pro Day is Friday

The Cougars will conduct their annual Pro Day on Friday at the Indoor Practice Facility.

Former members of the 2013 team will work out in front of NFL scouts and team representatives, but the workouts are closed to the public.

In a teleconference on Thursday, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said one former Cougar whose draft stock could be rising is safety Daniel Sorensen. Kiper said Sorensen "was a little bit of an underrated player throughout his career" and said a team might make him a late-round pick.

"I think as a Day 3 player, he's going to make a team and he's going to help you. He could be a starter," Kiper said. "He's a very underrated player."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay