Provo • Special teams were a mixed bag for the BYU football team last fall.
Graduated senior Riley Stephenson emerged as one of the top punters in the country, earning All-America honors. But kicker Justin Sorensen struggled after injuring his back while lifting weights and requiring surgery in the offseason.
It could be argued that the kicking game cost the 8-5 Cougars a few more wins in 2012. Sorensen was 6 for 12 on field-goal attempts, while Stephenson was 4 for 6. They were a combined 43 of 49 on PATs.
Not surprisingly, improving the kicking game has been one of the priorities through the first two weeks of spring camp, and coach Bronco Mendenhall said they are spending four times more time on kicking than they did in previous camps.
"We need it," he said.
Scott Arellano, a redshirt junior from Foothill (Calif). College, is Stephenson's heir apparent at punter, while another junior college transfer, Tyler Jackson of Itawamba (Miss.) College, has been brought in to push Sorensen for placekicking duties.
"Just based on last season, I think that will be wise" to have another kicker, Mendenhall said.
Sorensen said his back is "totally healed" and that his leg strength is "getting close" to where it was when he came out of Bingham High as one of the best prep kickers in the country.
"People can expect to see something a lot different from me than they saw last year," Sorensen said.
Left tackle Mathews on the mend
Sophomore left tackle Ryker Mathews underwent double-hip surgery after the 2012 season ended and is still on crutches. He hopes to be cleared for workouts some time in June and plans on being 100 percent by the time fall camp opens in early August.
"I tore my labrum in both of my hips," he said. "And then they shaved down some bone to prevent it from happening again."
Mathews said he got an MRI on his hurting left hip after the Utah game "and found out that was bad. Then toward the end of the season, my right one was hurting, so I got another MRI and found that one was torn, too. So I kinda played with it through all the season."
How much did the injury bother the 6-foot-6, 292-pound Mathews?
"I mean, I don't want to make excuses for myself, but it was pretty painful. It was a hard thing to go through. I wasn't 100 percent every game, but I did whatever I could," he said.
"Like I say, 'sometimes I got the job done.' "
Star receiver Cody Hoffman celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday ... The Cougars will end their second week of practices with a closed practice on Friday. ... Sophomore linebacker Jherremya Leuta-Douyere suffered a concussion in practice Wednesday.