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Crowton era begins with spring drills

PROVO — Since his hiring in December, BYU football coach Gary Crowton has been laying the groundwork for his program.

Today, Crowton and his staff can begin coaching.

The Cougars are scheduled to start spring drills at 10 this morning with a practice that is open to the public. The other 13 scheduled practices will be closed. BYU concludes spring drills April 7 with the annual Blue-White Scrimmage.

Topping Crowton's to-do list this spring is overhauling the offense. One of the reasons he pushed back the start of spring practices a week later than usual was to give his team more time to prepare for the upcoming changes.

Offensive coordinator Mike Borich has created BYU's new playbook, complete with new terminology, new schemes and new formations. It consists of a mixture of what Crowton and Borich have learned and applied during their years together at Louisiana Tech and with the NFL's Chicago Bears.

Still, Borich points out, this offense has roots in Provo. "The starting point of everything came from when Gary was here (as a student assistant in 1982)," Borich said. "He picked up other stuff along the road."

Cougar players have been studying the new playbook and working out on their own the past several weeks.

Asked to describe Crowton's system, quarterback Brandon Doman said, "He will spread us out. But the fans will see the same brown football flying through the air."

Indeed, some things never change. And the typical, popular question lingers at BYU: Who will be the starting Cougar QB?

For now, it's Doman. The senior-to-be, who led BYU to victories over New Mexico and Utah in its final two games of 2000, is a solid No. 1 heading into spring practices. Junior Bret Engemann is still recovering from shoulder surgery and has not been cleared to throw during spring drills.

That leaves the Cougars with Doman, Charlie Peterson and returned missionary Todd Mortensen taking the snaps.

BYU players are eager to bounce back from a lackluster 6-6 record last season, and they have been energized by Crowton and his style. "Coach Crowton is very hands-on, and he brings a lot of intensity," Doman said. "We're excited. We can't wait to start practicing."

First-year BYU strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer has been holding workouts at 6 a.m. almost daily during the winter.

"That's totally new for us. It's like Southern football workouts. They're tough," Doman said. "We as players know we have to prove ourselves. Coaches want to see who are the guys who will win football games. The coaches want to see who's committed. Those who aren't won't be here Saturday."

One Cougar who will not be around Saturday, or the rest of spring practices, is running back Marcus Whalen. While Whalen won't participate in spring practices, he will remain enrolled in school and redshirt in 2001. Crowton suspended Whalen for a violation of team rules, and he has been placed on limited suspension by the university. Last month, he was booked into jail for investigation of shoplifting, illegal possession of alcohol and illegal consumption of alcohol.

Cornerback Isiah Joiner will participate in spring ball but will not play in the Blue-White Game for academic-related reasons, Crowton said.