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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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Practice report: Mendenhall happy with BYU's progress

Some odds and ends from BYU’s sixth practice of training camp. The last 45 minutes or so were viewed by the media:

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* Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the Cougars were fully padded up, and "went with what we call thud tempo." He said two-a-days start on Friday, but that they will be lighter than normal because "our intent will be to scrimmage a significant number of plays on Saturday." That scrimmage will be at LaVell Edwards Stadium, he said. No word yet on whether the public/media will be allowed to attend.

* Asked for an assessment of his team’s progress after six practices, Mendenhall was positive and optimistic.

"I like our team a lot," he said. "Practice structure is giving us more team reps than we have ever had, with fewer injuries, which means we are more mature. Fewer players on the ground, which means that we can go harder, longer, with less risk.

So I think our team is progressing faster. Add a [experienced] quarterback into that mix, and that is accelerating our offensive growth. So I think we are .. I like our team. I think we look really good after however many days it has been — six days."

* Once again, the defense missed a lot of mainline players on Thursday. Projected starting linebackers Zac Stout (knee), Manoa Pikula (academics) and Bronson Kaufusi (hamstring) did not practice. Projected starting defensive end Graham Rowley left practice early with some sort of ailment. Safety Craig Bills and cornerback Rob Daniel also did not practice, although both were seen at photo day at the IPF a bit later, and both looked fine.

Mendenhall was asked about Stout and Pikula’s hold on their respective positions, mike and buck, and he said both were not firm.

"We have great competition at linebacker, and it is really nothing that Zac can control as he is hurt right now. In order for him to hold the spot, or any player — this isn’t about Zac specifically — there is enough competition. … The main thing that is happening now is with competition at receiver, competition at our running back spots, competition at O-line, competition at D-line, linebacker, secondary. Man, when a player goes down, it doesn’t take long before someone else steps in and has an opportunity, and it is hard to get spots back."

As for Pikula, Mendenhall said his starting spot "is precarious. And so it is similar to as if he were injured. His issues are just academically, but it is the same. Practices are going on and guys are getting better."

Mendenhall said the preparation level doesn’t change just because some projected starters are not running with the ones.

"We have to balance two things at the same time: first, game preparation and, second, season preparation. So working that format gives us our best chance to do both, and teach young people at the same time, hopefully with as much autonomy as we can. So, so far, so good."

Offensively, the Cougars are slowly working running back Algernon Brown into action, after he missed the first four practices to get some academic issues cleared up. Brown is still padless, per NCAA rules.

"With Alge [Brown] back, I feel good [about the depth at RB]," Mendenhall said. "When Alge wasn’t out there practicing, we were thin. So, barring injury, and when Jamaal is back after Game 1, I like our depth a lot. Losing one running back along the way, we become thin."

That said, the offense doesn’t seem to be missing as many guys as the defense. Offensive lineman Michael Yeck walked off the practice field early Thursday, and was later seen wearing a walking boot at photo day.

Tuni Kanuch hasn’t practiced yet in fall camp after making the move from defense to offense at spring camp.

Offensive lineman are shuttled in and out so quickly it is hard to get a grip on which guys are going to be the mainstays. It does appear that Brayden Kearsley has moved into the elite rotation the past few practices after starting out buried on the depth chart. Biggest surprise might be that Ryker Mathews is deeper down the depth chart right now that most probably expected.

During the media-observation time, the Cougars worked on their red-zone offense a bit, in a 7-on-7 format. Taysom Hill threw a pair of touchdown passes to Nick Kurtz and one to Terenn Houk, who told me at photo day that he considers himself more of a receiver than a tight end (alluding to a recent article about the topic).

Another somewhat unknown receiver, Colby Pearson, continues to shine. The walk-on caught a long touchdown pass from backup QB Christian Stewart today, but also dropped a bomb that ended up being the last play of the day.



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