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Provo • There was plenty of competition, scrimmaging and sorting out position battles during BYU's spring practices last year as rookie head coach Kalani Sitake and his new staff focused on learning the strengths and weaknesses of the players they inherited from Bronco Mendenhall.

This year, not so much.

The Cougars will open Sitake's second spring camp on Monday with a good idea what they have at almost every position and a fairly well-defined two-deep chart, so the emphasis will shift in 2017.

"It is going to be about fundamental improvement and scheme mastery and the efforts toward those two things," assistant head coach Ed Lamb said Thursday.

But why are the Cougars starting so early? A lot of it has to do with BYU's academic calendar, and lack of a traditional week off for spring break.

Lamb also said the advantage to starting early is if any injuries happen, there is more time for healing and surgeries before fall camp opens in August.

"So that won out this year over the advantage of going late," Lamb said.

The Cougars will conduct their annual spring scrimmage a week before camp ends to avoid a conflict with the LDS Church's General Conference. The scrimmage will be held on March 25 at 1 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium and is open to the public. The last practice is March 31, which will also be Alumni Day.

A new twist this year is the Cougars will hold a practice at Dixie High School in St. George on March 17 in conjunction with a "Fan Fest" celebration. BYU has a "strong fan base" in St. George and surrounding areas, Lamb said.

"And then we are going to try to make the most out of the trip itself, and see if we can take the boys swimming or fishing or some other activity down in the warm weather and really enjoy some time together without the pressure of football other than that one practice," he said.

Last year, the starting quarterback battle between Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum was the chief topic. This time, the junior Mangum is the clear starter and Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer Jr. are his primary backups. Returned missionary Kody Wilstead could also see reps. Joe Critchlow, the former Southern Utah signee who signed with BYU in February, won't return from a church mission to Montreal until June and most likely won't be eligible to play in the fall due to NCAA transfer rules.

De-emphasizing a quarterback battle "builds a little safer environment for Tanner to go in and perform at a full-speed level," Lamb said. "On the days where we need to allow the guys to play, and make sure we are blocking and tackling through the whistle, then I think that most likely Tanner will play a limited role.

"He has plenty of game experience and is a proven commodity," Lamb continued. "The whole effort with Tanner is to improve him fundamentally and technically and have him ready for game one."

Sitake made several position switches last spring — most notably moving Francis Bernard from running back to linebacker — and there could be more of that this week, Lamb acknowledged, without getting into specifics.

He did say that coaches have broached the idea about moving penciled-in starting safety Matt Hadley to running back.

"We haven't talked too far with anybody else, but Matt might be a guy who could get some snaps on the other side of the ball through spring," Lamb said. "… We have had discussions about at least a dozen, and maybe two dozen guys on our team, that maybe would be a better fit somewhere else."

Lamb said "maybe a dozen players" will be limited due to offseason surgeries or lingering injuries, a normal number for most years.

The coach confirmed that standout defensive end Sione Takitaki is trying to "work his way back onto the roster" after missing the 2016 season for reasons the program has never officially divulged.

"So obviously we are pulling for him to be available for fall, and as early as possible for spring," Lamb said, while also noting a comeback would produce a "valuable" story for "young players that are going through the pressures of college football and making decisions about who they are and what they stand for and how to best go about their business of being a collegiate athlete." Twitter: @drewjay —

BYU football spring dates

Monday • First practice

March 17 • Open practice at Dixie High School in St. George

March 22 • High School Coaches Clinic

March 24 • Pro Day, Indoor Practice Facility

March 25 • Spring Scrimmage, 1 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium

March 31 • Final practice, Alumni Day