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Jay Drew
Jay covers BYU athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @drewjay.

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Mendenhall is "comfortable" with BYU's progress a week away from opener

Perhaps it was because there will be no media availability on Thursday. Whatever the case, a larger media throng than usual converged upon BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall after practice on Wednesday.

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It was good, though, because Mendenhall fielded some broader questions about the team as a whole that generally don't come from beat writers working on more specific, daily, news stories.

For instance, what does Mendenhall think of his team's potential this year?

"I like the talent and I like the depth. Their execution and chemistry and consistency will really determine how they play. But I like where we are. And I feel comfortable, at least at this point, that we will be in good shape."

Which side is ahead at this stage, the offense or the defense?

"I think it is similar. With a senior quarterback, and that leadership, and also all the linebackers, and most of the front [three] guys back defensively, it has been fairly balanced," Mendenhall said. "I think it is more of a complete team, with more depth, without being maybe oriented one way or the other.

Again, coming out of camp, that's what I think. Sometimes it changes when we play the games, but that is what I would say now. They are not really a defensive team or an offensive team. They are very similar."

Mendenhall was asked about the number of wins he expects this team to attain this year.

His response:

"I really measure it as to how they can reach their potential. There have been a lot of wins, 10 or 11, really over the past five seasons. But I know exactly the teams that I have coached well, that got close to their potential, and the ones that underachieved in relation to my standards.

And I try to hold on to that more than the external measures. And I have high expectations for this team. If it is 10 or 11 wins, that is one thing. But if it is in relation to what we can accomplish [that's different]. Again, I have a pretty clear idea of what I think that is, and I don't gauge that by the number of wins."

Mendenhall gets asked about kicker Justin Sorensen almost daily, and Wednesday he finally had some good news to share because Sorensen attempted 10 field goals in practice. Mendenhall said he is feeling better about Sorensen.

"Yeah, going back to the prediction [he made two weeks ago that Sorensen would be ready vs. WSU], so far, so I can keep getting asked, or I can just say, I expect him for Washington State. It is fun just to have that question each day..... Anytime you get that question every day, that probably ranks as the highest one," he said, responding to a question about whether the Sorensen question is the most asked question.

The coach was also asked if there is another opponent he would rather open against.

"Well, I am sure there is," he said. "But that is [who] we are playing. We have known about it for a long time. So we have had plenty of chances to prepare for them."

BYU officials announced the injury to linebacker Kevan Bills (torn ACL) on Tuesday after reporters had talked to Mendenhall, so Wednesday offered the first opportunity to get the coach's take.

"It is really sad. .. It happened on an individual drill, on grass, with no contact," Mendenhall said. "And I am not sure if I have ever had an ACL happening like that before. You just chalk it up to bad luck, I think. .... Sometimes, there is just nothing you can do, and so, man, he works hard.

He kept practicing. Man, he practiced the next day. It is hard to explain that one. I feel bad for him, because he has worked so hard."

As I mentioned previously, tight end Marcus Mathews confirmed to me today that he is now working with the receivers at practice. Those of us who have watched every practice and scrimmage have believed that Mathews was going to be the starting tight end, or at least rotating with Austin Holt. Those two have taken the bulk of the reps with the first-team offense in the practices and/or practice segments where reporters were allowed to watch.

It was somewhat surprising, then, to hear Mendenhall say this when he was asked whether there will be a resurgence at the tight end position this year:

"That's the hope. I am not sure that I would call it a surprise or not, but the real player that I have been so happy with is Kaneakua [Friel]. Of the players that have had the best fall camp, and become the most complete, and also the effort on special teams, if I were to pick one right now, he is the one that I like best in terms of how he has played, how he has conducted himself, the consistency.

Austin [Holt] and Richard [Wilson], they are wearing braces, etc., and they are still fighting through it. Then when you add Marcus [Mathews], all of a sudden the athleticism in that spot looks pretty good. And the numbers look good.

Without Kaneakua, it would be different this year, but he has kind of filled a hole [and] that has been helpful to us as the others are still coming back from their knees."

Will the tight ends be used by platoon?

"More by role," Mendenhall said. "So it is not necessarily just a random rotation by platoon. It is more of, who the blocker is, who the receiver is, that kind of thing. Or trending that way."

Finally, the coach was asked what positions need to be solidified:

"Let's see. Man, there are so few to consider. Obviously, the tight end spot needs to be solidified with the injuries from a year ago. Love the depth at running back, so I am not concerned there.

Field corner, Jordan Johnson is the biggest unknown. Not many others that I would look to. Then, maybe the kicking game with Justin Sorensen returning to health. So those are the remaining issues, I would say, still to look at."



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