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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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Finally healthy, lanky WR Mitch Mathews starting to emerge for BYU

Saturday's open practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium didn't show BYU fans much -- the scrimmage included just three series at the end of the practice -- but it did give some evidence that coach Bronco Mendenhall's proclamation that this might be the deepest group of receivers the school has ever had at one time might be true.

"When you go back to the Tod Watkins and Austin Collie combination, that was pretty powerful, but not much depth behind them. We are deeper than we have ever been, with good players," Mendenhall said last week.

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Everybody knows about Cody Hoffman, who was held out of the scrimmage along with a dozen or so starters. Skyler Ridley, Ross Apo and JD Falslev will also see Taysom Hill's passes fly in their direction once the season begins.

Then there's Mitch Mathews, who was probably the MVP of Week 1, and easily the biggest surprise of fall camp so far. The 6-foot-6 Mathews hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Ammon Olsen early in the practice when the Cougars were working on plays inside the 20.

"I would just say that I have been waiting for the opportunity to come. Everybody on the team feels like once they get their shot, they can perform," Mathews said. "Starting with spring ball, it was the first time I have been healthy. I broke my collarbone twice in the last year, and also had some groin problems. I have barely been healthy. I feel like when I am fully healthy I am confident in my ability to go make plays."

There's also another Mathews on the squad who had a catch Saturday. Junior Marcus Mathews, 6-4, has been sort of the forgotten man at camp, but started a couple games last year (and caught the game-winner against Utah State) and gives the Cougars some versatility since he has learned several positions.

"He's doing really well," Mitch Mathews said. "His wife just had a baby, so a lot of pressure there, in his personal life. But the thing with him, they have moved him from tight end to receiver, to tight end and back to receiver. So he is in this limbo position right now where tight end is his natural position, but he is such a good athlete that he can move out to receiver and help us out at receiver, too."

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I had a nice chat with Apo on Saturday, but I am going to save most of that for a later article. Suffice it to say, Apo talks and acts like a new man this year. He also looks different.

"I feel way different, way stronger, and a lot faster. Last year, by the time the season started, I couldn't even bench 135 pounds. I am way stronger and way faster and more confident now.

I did 225 [pounds on the bench press] 12 times at the start of camp. I think I [pressed] 280 once."

Someone asked Apo if he has to prove it to himself that he can be as good as advertised:

"Yeah, definitely. At the end of the day, you have to prove it to yourself, and that's all that matters.

I was disappointed in myself last year, honestly. And this year I just want to prove to myself that I am a good player. I just want to go out there and make plays."

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Last week, new receivers coach Guy Holliday said Apo needs to "just play" and the confidence will return.

"For a receiver, there is not anything magical to it. You have got to go out and make plays, and through that you will build your confidence and become a technician. And he is working on that. He will be fine," Holliday said.

I asked the new assistant coach how Apo is handling the demotion, with Ridley having taken his place on the depth chart coming out of spring.

"I think the way we approach everything, and what people don't realize, is that my depth chart is day-to-day," Holliday said. "You are as good as you were yesterday. And we will see what tomorrow holds. The spring is over, that's the best thing about it. If you are third team, it is over. If you are second team, you got an opportunity to be first team.

The worst thing about it if you are first team is you gotta fight to hold on. So that's the great thing about competition. With competition, you are either going to accept it or turn it down. If you turn it down, you are not a college football player, anyway."

Holliday said he didn't look at a lot of past game film to learn more about his receivers.

"I don't want my judgement clouded. My coaching style is probably a little bit different from the last coach. What I see, he might not have seen, and what he was seeing I may not have saw. So yeah, it is a fresh start. Players got to accept the challenge. Sometimes change is good."

A few more comments from Holliday:

On how the receivers did over the summer:

"I am pleased, but I am not satisfied. I think the thing you have to realize is the moment you become satisfied, you become a failure, and so I am never say I am satisfied with where we are. We have to keep pushing and fighting every day."

On freshman Michael Davis:

"Haven't seen enough of him. I know he can run straight ahead really fast. Obviously, he runs a 10.65 in the 100 meters. That makes you really fast. To be honest with you, he's got to get everything straight, on the field and off the field, and be a team guy and prove himself with our offense."

On how JD Falslev is doing:

"JD came out and had a great summer. He made a play yesterday, and ...guys, it is two days in. At 20 days in, let's see where we are. I mean, I am satisfied with where JD is athletically. He put in good work this summer. So we will see what happens."

On whether these receivers block well:

"If you can't block, you can't play. I mean, you gotta be a complete football player. We are not going to have a concern. We are just going to block, and get it done."

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OK, time to head down to Provo for this morning's practice. Media members will be allowed to observe the last 30 minutes or so of practice (approx. 11:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.). The only other access/interview sessions for the media this week will be held Wednesday and Friday.



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