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Provo • The list of players who will miss BYU's spring football workouts which begin Monday, a week earlier than usual is quite long, after more than a dozen players needed surgery during or after the season for an assortment of injuries suffered in 2011.
But the list of starting positions truly up for grabs is fairly short, as the Cougars look to replace only a handful of departing seniors who started on the 2011 team that went 10-3 in the school's first season of independence and beat Tulsa 24-21 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
"Our players and coaches are excited to start practicing again," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We have a lot of senior leadership. I believe we have a strong team coming back. And we are looking forward to continuing to improve our program."
A lot of attention will be paid to the secondary in spring camp, Mendenhall said, where the departures of free safety Travis Uale and cornerback Corby Eason leave holes. Sophomore Jordan Johnson and senior Robbie Buckner will vie for the vacant corner position, while junior Daniel Sorensen, senior Mike Hague and senior Joe Sampson are in the mix at both safety positions.
"We are looking to find the best combination of safeties," Mendenhall said, noting that Sorensen was the starting strong safety last year but could be moved to free.
Speaking of potential position switches, the only major ones are that inside linebacker Spencer Hadley, a junior, will be moved to strongside linebacker to fill the spot vacated by Jordan Pendleton and Jameson Frazier, and linebacker Austen Jorgensen will move across the line to fullback.
Weakside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, perhaps the team's best player, recently had surgery to repair a labrum tear in his shoulder that occurred in October against TCU but didn't stop the junior from finishing the season.
"It is very similar every spring," Mendenhall said. "Sometimes the positions change that you are trying to replace. But really, we are looking to establish another strong, competitive football team that has a chance to compete in or win every game. We have made a lot of progress in the program; we are very, very consistent. We are one of, I think, the country's best."
Offensively, there are few question marks.
Senior quarterback Riley Nelson is entrenched there, and Mendenhall said that James Lark is the backup, despite the "interesting situation" that presents because Lark is also a senior, and the younger quarterbacks in the program returned missionaries Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen, particularly won't see many reps. Another QB, junior Jason Munns, will miss camp due to foot surgery.
"This spring will be so important for [Lark] in terms of maintaining [the] role that he currently has," Mendenhall said. "If James Lark is still the best player behind Riley, we will use him as the backup.
"If any of the other quarterbacks are more adept at running the football or maybe doing something else," Mendenhall continued, "we might be able to get them some more time on the field, in maybe a unique package that will help [get them] some experience."
The coach said the running back situation is fairly set with Josh Quezada and Mike Alisa returning, but could be bolstered if the addition of BYU rugby star Paul Lasike works out.
"So we will have a nice running back battle going on as well," Mendenhall said.
The Cougars are also set at receiver with blossoming stars Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and JD Falslev returning. Mendenhall said spring ball will be used to develop returned missionaries Mitch Mathews, Brett Thompson and Jordan Smith.
Mendenhall said his seven previous spring camps have taught him a thing or two.
"One thing to remember is that spring isn't fall. Spring is still a developmental stage. I have learned a lot more to put spring into perspective, and I want our players healthy at the end of spring, I want them to be as experienced as they can be," he said. "But it is not fall yet. If anything, we will err on the side of hitting less, not more, to make sure that we continue to build our personnel going into fall."
The spring game will be similar to last year's but will be held after the third week of practices, on March 24, rather than after the last week to avoid conflicting with the LDS Church's General Conference.
BYU football spring schedule
Practices begin at 4 p.m. but are closed to public
Week 1 • Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
Week 2 • March 12, 13, 15, 16
Week 3 • March 19, 20, 22
Week 4 • March 26, 28, 30 (alumni day)
BYU players who will miss spring camp
• Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (shoulder surgery)
• Kicker Justin Sorensen (back surgery)
• Offensive lineman Braden Brown (shoulder surgery)
• Defensive back Preston Hadley (shoulder surgery)
• Quarterback Jason Munns (foot surgery)
• Running back David Foote (shoulder surgery)
• Linebacker Teu Kautai (foot surgery)
• Defensive lineman Russell Tialavea (foot surgery/mission recovery)
• Receiver Dalin Tollestrup (shoulder surgery)
• Tight end Austin Holt (knee injury)
• Tight end Richard Wilson (knee injury)
• Tight end Devin Mahina (neck injury)
• Defensive lineman Jordan Richardson (back injury)
• Fullback Iona Pritchard (knee injury)
BYU spring game
P March 24, at LaVell Edwards Stadium, time to be announced