Provo • The cornerback situation for BYU this season has gone from scary to an outright nightmare for coach Bronco Mendenhall's otherwise stellar-looking defense.
During the Cougars' first practice Monday, projected starting cornerback Jordan Johnson suffered a torn ACL in his knee while he was returning a kickoff. The injury happened when Johnson planted his foot wrong in the grass at the outdoor practice facility and was not from contact.
An MRI revealed the tear and BYU football spokesperson Brett Pyne confirmed that the junior from Springfield, Mass., will miss the entire season.
Johnson, who was referred to BYU by former basketball great Danny Ainge, general manager of the Boston Celtics, redshirted in 2010, saw significant time in 2011 and became a valuable member of BYU's defense which was ranked No. 3 nationally in fewest yards allowed in 2012.
Johnson started in 12 of 13 games in 2012, making 48 tackles, 15 pass breakups and an interception.
Johnson's injury means that when sophomore David Watford, who on Monday was named Virginia's starting quarterback for the opener against BYU, lines up behind center at Scott Stadium on Aug. 31 to take his first snap since the 2011 season he could see true freshman Dallin Leavitt on one side of BYU's secondary and junior college transfer Robertson Daniel on the other.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Leavitt was preparing for his senior season at Portland's Central Catholic High School in Oregon at this time last year, and Daniel sat out the entire 2012 season at DeAnza Community College in Cupertino, Calif., to work on his academics. He hasn't played in a real football game for nearly 20 months.
"Sure it is possible," BYU defensive backs coach Nick Howell said last week. "We are going to coach [Leavitt] up and get him ready. He's a good football player. We wouldn't have recruited him if we didn't think he could play right away. I don't want players who don't want to play right away. And I don't want to recruit players who can't play right away. If they can't then we aren't recruiting the right guys."
On Monday, Mendenhall spoke to reporters before news of Johnson's injury which happened before the 30-minute media viewing period at the end of practice had been released. He said that Daniel and and Leavitt were in a heated battle to be the starting boundary corner and Daniel had a slight lead because he is a bit faster. Now, Daniel becomes the favorite to be Johnson's replacement.
"They've both done a good job making plays," Howell said. "That's where we are right now."
The cupboard was already bare because BYU lost junior college transfer Trenton Trammell to a season-ending knee injury the first day of spring camp and multi-sport star Jacob Hannemann to professional baseball (Chicago Cubs organization) in June.
What's more, another juco transfer who plays cornerback, Sam Lee, has yet to practice at fall camp due to a back injury. And senior Mike Hague, who was listed as the starting boundary corner out of spring camp, needed surgery to repair an IT band problem in his knee a few months ago and has not been expected to be ready for the Virginia game.
Hague is "ahead of schedule," Mendenhall said on Monday. Another corner, Trevor Bateman, is also coming off offseason knee surgery.
On Thursday, Howell said Bateman can play both corner positions, but is being brought back slowly and not quite ready.
Another option is Skye PoVey, a junior who said on Monday that he can play almost every position in the secondary well except field corner.
"I am no Jordan Johnson, that's for sure," PoVey said. "But yeah, I can do my best. ... If they need me, I can try to play field corner."
Adam Hogan, a senior from Los Angeles Southwest College, can also play both cornerback spots and will be considered for a starting spot, along with Drew Reilly, the transfer from Colorado State who is a natural safety but might be speedy enough to learn the cornerback position.
Per BYU rules regarding media access to newcomers, neither Leavitt nor Daniel are allowed to talk to reporters until after the team's first game.
What we learned • Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday morning's practice was "sluggish" and execution was about the same as it has been, perhaps a bit slower, as the players realized they still have 18 days before the opener against Virginia on Aug. 31.
Who was hot • Receiver Mitch Mathews caught a 55-yard touchdown pass and tight end Kaneakua Friel hauled in a 40-yard throw.
Who was out • Projected starting cornerback Jordan Johnson suffered an ACL tear during practice Monday and is out for the season.