Provo • Notwithstanding that grueling 40-minute conditioning and teamwork drill they called "Perfect 10s," the BYU Cougars had it relatively easy in their 2012 spring football camp. They only donned full pads a couple of times, did precious little hitting, and probably had the shortest spring game — it was actually a 35-play scrimmage — of any team in college football.
Heck, they didn’t even wear helmets in one practice.
A closer look
What we learned:
» Quarterback Riley Nelson got the lion’s share of the reps, and is not only the team’s on-field leader, but the emotional leader as well.
» Coach Bronco Mendenhall feels so good about the experience and physicality of his team that very little hitting was done throughout camp.
» The defense has the potential to be as good as any Mendenhall has had in his eight years at the BYU helm.
But coach Bronco Mendenhall says they accomplished what they had to, pronouncing the 15-practice camp a success when the Cougars finished it March 30 in front of hundreds of former players and their families.
"I think the stage is set to have a good team [this fall]," Mendenhall said. "But I thought that before spring."
Because so many players skipped camp due to offseason surgeries or were injured early in the monthlong endeavor, not much new was learned about the Cougars, a fact that Mendenhall even acknowledged himself last Friday.
"I was impressed with the leadership going in, with 29 seniors, that that would be kind of a strength," Mendenhall said. "There are a few younger players that I think maybe their roles might be expanded a little more than what I thought."
Those would include backup linebacker Manoa Pikula, defensive end Ziggy Ansah and quarterback Taysom Hill, perhaps in a "wildcat" role to take advantage of his running ability.
"The biggest question going into the season, I would say, is just Justin Sorensen’s health as the kicker," Mendenhall said.
Sorensen had back surgery a few weeks before camp started and won’t be able to kick again until this summer. However, the Cougars gave backup Riley Stephenson, the punter, only a few field-goal attempts in spring camp.
"There are not many other questions, based on the reports of the number of guys that we are going to have back and healthy, and the depth that we are going to have at [those] positions," Mendenhall said.
One question spring camp didn’t answer is whether the Cougars can run the football in September, a weakness that cost them dearly last fall. Eight offensive linemen, including at least the top six guys, were held out of spring camp. That meant little to no work for running backs such as Joshua Quezada, Mike Alisa and Iona Pritchard.
And when the Cougars tried to run the ball, plays went nowhere most of the time as the defense — even though it was missing key guys such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Ogletree and cornerback Preston Hadley — dominated so much that even ever-positive quarterback Riley Nelson grumbled a bit.
Still, Nelson was mostly sharp this spring, showing marked improvement in accuracy, decision-making and grasp of the offense.
"Spring is all about repetitions, and volume, and I personally feel like I got a lot of reps, more than I have ever got in my whole college career, so I feel like I got a lot better," Nelson said. "Those of us who were healthy got a lot better."
The senior acknowledged that it was tough dealing with all the injuries, but said the emphasis all spring was on staying as healthy as possible.
"So a lot of good things came out of it, both on and off the football field," Nelson said.
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