Provo • BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall said Friday that this is the deepest team he's had in his eight years overseeing the program, and equals, or possibly exceeds his best clubs in terms of talent.
"We will have to play, but I think so," he said.
Nowhere is that more evident than at the two inside linebacker positions BYU calls them buck and mike where coach Paul Tidwell says he would have no problem trusting up to seven guys to put in games.
Of course, returning starters Uona Kaveinga (mike, or middle) and Brandon Ogletree (buck) are seniors and will be the starters on Aug. 30 when BYU plays host to Washington State (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
"Both are very reliable and dependable," Tidwell said. "Both of them love football. I mean, they are not just here to get a scholarship and find a wife. Those two guys, they love football, and they love studying it. They love practice. It is great to have leadership like that, not only for the inside linebackers, but for the whole defense and team."
Tidwell said sophomore Zac Stout will be Kaveinga's backup (although the USC transfer didn't miss a meaningful down in 13 games last year) and redshirt freshman Manoa Pikula, the former Bingham High star, will be Ogletree's primary backup at buck.
The other three he trusts are Oregon State transfer Uani Unga, a junior; oft-injured junior Tyler Beck; and senior Austen Jorgensen, who was a fullback in spring camp, but has switched back to linebacker. Unga, whom Tidwell says is "smart and savvy and will help us," can play both mike and buck and would likely be the fifth ILB to play.
"It is going to be hard to get everybody playing time," Tidwell said. "Hopefully, they will get opportunities as the season goes on."
Tight end Devin Mahina broke his hand he's out a few more weeks and offensive lineman Brock Stringham sprained both ankles, but the Cougars did not have what Mendenhall would term a "major injury" in preseason camp, which wraps up Saturday. Of course, kicker Justin Sorensen hasn't returned to practice since back surgery last winter, and other guys have been held out of various practices, but mostly due to maladies with which they entered camp.
"Not one significant injury caused by practice for all of camp," Mendenhall said. "I don't ever remember saying that, which is really good. … We have a healthy team going into game prep, which, that was my goal."
Asked about his biggest concern right now, Mendenhall mentioned the kicking situation, but noted that punter Riley Stephenson so far has shown the ability to kick field goals and extra points.
The river can wait
Mendenhall generally gives his players a break during fall camp and takes them on a team activity such as river running or a movie. He decided not to do that this year.
"Basically I have substituted a lot of activities just to be with my team at the end [of practice], doing different kinds of challenges, etc. And it is not like floating the river, but with this particular team, I have taken a different approach, based on what I think they need," he said.
Mendenhall said he will name team captains either Saturday night or Monday. … After watching film of Thursday's scrimmage, Mendenhall said he was pleased with the clean play and lack of penalties, even crediting the Big 12 officiating crew that worked it. "There wasn't a single holding call," he marveled.
BYU camp cuts
What we learned • The Cougars will wrap up preseason camp Saturday and turn their attention to preparations for Washington State on Monday.
Who was hot • Practice was closed, but coach Bronco Mendenhall said former walk-on JD Falslev, a receiver, continues to bring intensity to every practice.
Who was out • Defensive lineman Ian Dulan still hasn't returned to practice after receiving a nerve-blocking injection for back pain.