Provo • Talk is cheap in preseason camp, but BYU football coaches are heaping praise on one particular position group that is normally seen in August as a question mark, rather than a probable strength.
It's the secondary, believe it or not, which has to replace two starters safety Travis Uale and cornerback Corby Eason but is perceived to be full of promise.
"The secondary might be the best we've had," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "Well, I think it is the best we've had athletically since I have been here. Whether they play that way, we will see."
One reason Mendenhall speaks so positively about the defensive backs is because sophomore Craig Bills has returned from his church mission at full strength, and seemingly hasn't lost a step to mission rust or anything else.
Daniel Sorensen at strong safety (Kat) and Joe Sampson at free safety are the presumed starters, but Bills has shown he can play at either spot, or at nickel when coaches think a fifth DB is needed to stop the many spread attacks they will see this season.
With Bills missing spring camp he returned on Feb. 9, too late to enroll in winter semester some thought the Timpview High product might be asked to redshirt. No chance.
"We are going to need him. And he's a good player who will certainly be in the two-deep, not only in base [defense], but also in nickel. Probably a starter on every special team. So, he will be playing," Mendenhall said.
Bills intercepted a pass in Friday's 11-on-11 drill, and got a lot of extra reps early in camp at free safety where he started a game prior to his mission when Sampson was out four practices.
"Right now, I have been running kat, nickel and free," he said after Saturday's practice. " I love free. I love the open space when we are dropping back. But I love nickel, too. You get to drop down and play like a linebacker and blitz. I have never blitzed, ever, in my career as a football player. And I love kat, too. So it has been fun as a football player in fall camp, trying to learn that."
Ready for a break
Although he completed 6 of 7 passes for 67 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, quarterback Riley Nelson reluctantly admitted to being tired and worn out after the lone practice of the day.
"You have to conserve your energy where you can conserve it. So forgive me for not having as many quips as normal. I don't know. Let's just say I am grateful for the Sabbath," he said.
Not quite ready
Mendenhall said BYU's two-deep chart is "partially" completed, but he's not quite ready to announce it yet. He said he could "share" a few things on Monday, but that it could all change a few days later.
" Most likely we will scrimmage next Thursday [at LaVell Edwards Stadium], rather than Tuesday, is about what I am thinking," he said.
Mendenhall said he is "leaning toward" playing freshman receiver Dylan Collie, and not having him redshirt before a planned church mission. … BYU commit Jonryheem Peoples of Rigby, Idaho, attended Saturday's practice. So did a running back hoping to land a BYU offer, Darrin Laufasa of Bothell, Wash. Laufasa has offers from Idaho, Portland State and Wyoming. … The mother of BYU freshman RB Jamaal Williams was also at practice. She said Oregon made a late run to lure Williams away from his BYU commitment, but he held firm. "They were very, very persistent," she said of the Ducks.
BYU camp cuts
What we learned: BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he's still not ready to release a depth chart, but will be able to give a few details when practice resumes on Monday.
Who was hot: Backup receiver Jordan Smith made the day's best catch, and QB Riley Nelson sliced up the defense in a red-zone drill.
Who was out: Tight end Marcus Mathews missed most of the week due to illness, which Mendenhall described as "severe," but not a longterm concern.