p class="TEXT_w_Indent"> "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.