BYU football: Receivers shining early at preseason camp
Provo • It is dangerous to make a lot of bold declarations after just two days of training camp, but so far it appears that BYU's revamped receiving corps is the real deal. And the Cougars seem hell-bent on using that heightened speed and athleticism, throwing the ball deep countless times already in the 11-on-11 team scrimmages and 7-on-7 drills.
"We have more balls going downfield today in the first practice maybe than I saw all spring," coach Bronco Mendenhall said on Friday. "More weapons, more depth, more athleticism, more speed, more ball skills. Now, the consistency, the diligence, the character, maturity to handle BYU and the workload to go with it, that will play out over time. But in terms of the athletic ability, that is certainly there."
It was more of the same on Saturday, although coaches and players weren't made available to the media after the open-to-the-public practice that drew about 1,200 folks to the outdoor practice facility behind the Student Athlete Building.
Backup quarterback Christian Stewart was especially adept at throwing the long ball, hooking up twice with junior college transfer Nick Kurtz for touchdowns. Mitch Mathews and Mitchell Juergens also caught long touchdown passes, and UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie hauled in a 35-yarder from Taysom Hill as practice was drawing to a close. The other juco transfer the Cougars are high on, Devon Blackmon, sprinted past several defenders for a score, and also made a spectacular one-handed grab along the sidelines.
Receivers coach Guy Holliday said Friday that it was a positive start for his troops, but cautioned fans to temper their expectations until the wideouts perform consistently in games.
"Sure, we caught some deep balls, but we are nowhere near where we need to be," Holliday said. "It is going to be a grind. Ask me [about the depth] a week from game week, and I will tell you where we are. It is a process. This is going to go on and on and on and on. My thinking is that when you put together six or seven good days, then you are ready to go. You are only as good as your last day. So today we were pretty good. We will see where we are tomorrow."
Along with the aforementioned, returnee Mitch Mathews and Colby Pearson have made some impressive catches, while Ross Apo is playing while wearing a red jersey to signal that he is off-limits to contact. Stanford transfer Keanu Nelson, ex-defensive back Michael Davis, Kurt Henderson, Jake Ziolkowski, David Kessler and Travis Frey add to the remarkable depth just a year after the BYU receiving corps limped to the finish line with little depth behind the departed Cody Hoffman, JD Falslev and Skyler Ridley.
More suspensions coming?
Friday's camp-opening announcement by running back Jamaal Williams that he will be suspended for the opener against UConn on Aug. 29 has a BYU player ever announced his own suspension before? put a damper on what the Cougars hoped would be a more celebratory day as coach Bronco Mendenhall's 10th season got underway.
The first clue was that Williams, arguably the team's best or second-best player, ran with the second-stringers on Friday. He did so again on Saturday. Based on that sign, it is becoming rather apparent through two practices that several other projected starters are being punished, or will be punished, as well.
For instance, projected starting cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel and probable starting nose tackle Marques Johnson have yet to run with the ones, and at times all three have been with the threes.
Through two practices, players who seem to be getting the most reps with the ones on the offensive line are DeOndre Wesley, Michael Yeck, Kyle Johnson, Edward Fusi, Terrance Alletto, Brock Stringham, Solomone Kafu and Ului Lapuaho.
Of course, it is all conjecture and speculation at this point, and Mendenhall said Friday while discussing the Williams matter (after the junior brought it up on his own) that he won't publicly announce any suspensions before the opener. It will be up to the player to decide whether he wants to talk publicly about it or not, the coach said.
While receivers have made plenty of big plays in two practices, defenders haven't been getting steamrolled on every play. Saturday, freshman linebacker Fred Warner had two interceptions, and Va'a Niumatalolo (son of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo), LB Austin Heder and safety Kai Nacua picked off passes.
Linebackers Manoa Pikula (academics) and Bronson Kaufusi (tweaked hamstring) are among projected defensive starters who have not practiced yet.
Moose Bingham and Trevor Samson have been joined in their battle to be the field goal kicker by Andrew Mikkelsen, a returned missionary who was a walk-on at Oregon State before his service. Saturday, projected starter Bingham made field goals of 49, 44 and 34 yards, while Mikkelsen hit 33, 44 and 49-yarders and Samson made 34 and 49-yarders and missed from 44.
BYU camp Day 2 storylines
O The Cougars practice in front of about 1,200 fans in the first open-to-the-public session of camp.
• Juco transfer Nick Kurtz catches a pair of long touchdown passes from backup QB Christian Stewart.
• Freshman linebacker Fred Warner intercepts two passes.