Provo • Until junior quarterback Tanner Mangum drove the offense to a touchdown — a medium-length pass to Talon Shumway — during a two-minute drill at BYU's fourth training camp practice Monday, the Cougars' defense had been controlling the 11-on-11 scrimmages in shoulder pads, shorts and helmets.
And there was a reason for that. His name is Sione Takitaki. Returning to practice this summer for the first time since midway through the 2015 season, Takitaki has easily been the Cougars' best defender in camp. The redshirt junior had two whistle sacks Monday and has been almost unblockable.
"Yeah, money," coach Kalani Sitake said of Takitaki. "He is a great pass rusher, and he is physical and he is strong. He worked hard in the offseason, and it is showing in the way he is handling stuff in the pads. Once we went in shoulder pads and helmets Saturday and today, he is further ahead with the run game stuff than I thought. He is a deadly pass rusher.
"If we can make all the other parts of his game deadly, he will be really, really good," Sitake said.
Before Mangum's TD throw to Shumway, freshman tight end Matt Bushman made two big catches, continuing his standout performance from the spring. Redshirt sophomore Micah Simon also made a big catch, and the offense overcame a brief setback when senior receiver Jonah Trinnaman went down with an undisclosed injury and needed some medical attention before hobbling off the field.
Tryout at kick returner
The Cougars averaged 21.21 yards per kickoff return last year, which ranked them No. 54 in the country in that category. Special teams coach Ed Lamb has said they feel like they can improve upon that ranking in 2017, and they appear to have the talent in place to accomplish that.
Sophomore Aleva Hifo averaged 21.0 yards on 21 returns last year, and senior Matt Hadley averaged 27.9 yards on seven returns.
Hadley said Monday he wants to be in the mix again, although spring's experiment of having him play running back is over.
Sitake said Friday that receivers Trinnaman and Simon, safeties Tanner Jacobsen and Micah Hannemann and cornerback Michael Shelton are also being given a chance in camp to show what they can do.
"Just everybody except for Mo Langi will be back there," Sitake noted, referencing the 6-foot-7, 410-pound freshman returned missionary from Samoa.
Sitake said BYU has filed a waiver request to the NCAA to get Notre Dame transfer Tristen Hoge, an offensive lineman, eligible for the 2017 season. "The earlier the better for us, because he is a great talent. We will see. We will keep our fingers crossed and pray for that one," he said of Hoge, who got some reps on Monday.
Also, Sitake said freshman A.J. Lolohea, a prospect from West High who signed with Weber State before a church mission, has received a waiver to play but is currently "a little banged up" and missed the first few practices.
Junior college transfer Taipe Vaka has yet to practice because he is still making up some classwork from his former school, Diablo Valley.
Oregon transfer Wayne Tei-Kirby and tight end Joe Tukuafu, who signed with Utah State before a church mission, are also in camp but are not eligible this season.
JJ Nwigwe, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior from Rockwall, Texas, continues to practice with the tight ends. Nwigwe played in 12 of 13 games last season as an offensive lineman and was listed as the backup at left tackle coming out of spring camp.