Provo • For the first time since 2009, BYU’s football team will be coming off a loss when it begins spring practices today on campus.
"More than anything else, that’s made us hungry to get back out there and get back to work with the guys," said linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga. "As coaches, this is what we live for. Recruiting is fine and all that stuff, but we are here to coach football. We are all looking forward to Monday."
BYU spring camp
Monday » Camp begins, 4 p.m.
March 14 » Pro Day in IPF, 10:30 a.m.
March 21 » High school coaches clinic
April 4 » Final practice (Alumni Day)
Note: Practices are closed to the public; a date for the spring scrimmage has not been finalized.
Most college football programs begin spring camp in the middle of March, but BYU has generally opted to start the first Monday of the month under Bronco Mendenhall, who is entering his 10th season as coach. The Cougars will practice or scrimmage three times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) through April 4.
A date has not been finalized for the annual Blue-White spring scrimmage, but it most likely will be held at the end of the fourth week, instead of the fifth so it does not conflict with LDS Church’s General Conference.
Poppinga said the primary goal will be to continue to establish the "go hard, go fast" mentality coaches emphasized at the start of spring camp last year after Mendenhall shuffled his entire offensive staff and brought in offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
"Ultimately, we want to build depth, get our guys to understand the schemes better, and get the new guys to embrace the culture of BYU football," Poppinga said.
Last month, Mendenhall said the difference between this offseason, despite the 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl, and last offseason is like night and day.
"Now to have coaches who have already been out in the spring, and have been working together in a lot of areas, is huge," he said.
Offensively, the goal is simple this spring, Poppinga said: Improve the passing game.
Even athletic director Tom Holmoe weighed in on that deficiency, saying last week that the running game will always be a staple in Anae’s new offense, but that "we need to gain some more balance, obviously. That’s an understatement."
At least, the Cougars are set at quarterback and running back, as Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams return as the main weapons. Christian Stewart and Billy Green will compete to be Hill’s backup, with Ammon Olsen having transferred to Southern Utah. McCoy Hill, a walk-on returned missionary from Jordan High, also joins that mix.
The offensive line returns mostly intact but will be bolstered by returned missionaries.
With the three leading receivers from 2013 — Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev — having graduated, receivers coach Guy Holliday will begin the process of revamping his corps of pass-catchers, with a big focus on highly regarded JUCO transfer Nick Kurtz.
Michael Davis, who played cornerback last season, will move back to receiver.
Defensively, Poppinga said the position hardest hit by graduation was linebacker. Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, Teu Kautai and Manoa Pikula are in the mix to replace Uani’ Unga and Kyle Van Noy. Also, coaches are welcoming back linebacker Zac Stout, who has made his way back into the program after being kicked out of school in November 2012 for his involvement in an off-campus brawl.
Former defensive end Bronson Kaufusi will try his hand at outside linebacker, along with ex-running back Mike Alisa.
Nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna and safety Daniel Sorensen also leave big shoes to fill, and a big focus of spring camp will be spent trying to find a strong safety to pair with free safety Craig Bills.
At cornerback, Jordan Johnson (knee) isn’t quite ready to participate. But JUCO transfer Trenton Trammell is back after suffering a season-ending knee injury the first day of spring camp last year. Trammell has looked good in offseason speed and conditioning drills, Mendenhall said.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.