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As spring drills wind down, Y. showing positive signs

SHARE As spring drills wind down, Y. showing positive signs

Days are winding down on spring football practice at BYU.

BYU folks have work Thursday and then the Blue-White game, usually a mixed bag of nuts, depending on who plays, who is held out, and which quarterbacks go against the No. 1 defense.

Regardless, sand in the hourglass is piling up at the bottom of this spring. You could say the sand is also piling up on the Cougars' opportunity to win more than four games in 2004. And most of the burden to improve on that mark falls on the offense.

Is there progress?

Yes. BYU's offense will be better in 2004. It couldn't get much worse. But that wisecrack aside, there are signs the Cougars will score in 'O4.

Spring practice 2004 is significantly better than a year ago. Last year Gary Crowton wanted 100 percent attendance and no class conflicts so he had practice sessions begin at 6 a.m. With icicles hanging from noses and players wiping away eye boogers, work proceeded with mixed results.

This spring, the Cougars have enjoyed great afternoon weather. On one day it rained last Thursday, coaches simply took an 83-play scrimmage 100 yards from the lockers to a plush indoor practice facility.

A year ago, Crowton felt the need to be practically in the offensive huddle. If he didn't, the quarterbacks struggled. This spring, Crowton stands on the sidelines during a scrimmage and doesn't have the urge to hover like a helicopter. That's progress.

Last spring, Crowton painted everything with a wide, fat brush, trying to get myriad issues fixed before sunrise and the end of March. This spring, he's focused on three simple aspects of the offense: rhythm, timing and protection. And he'll finish before Easter.

Lance Reynolds, a 22-year veteran of Cougar spring practices as a coach, returned from overseeing the offensive line to the running backs — his job three years ago.

Reynolds believes this spring has been significantly more productive than a year ago.

Last spring Matt Berry was coming off shoulder surgery. John Beck was five months returned from Portugal. There was no junior college transfer quarterback Jason Beck. In a year, the quarterback position alone has significantly matured.

"The whole spring practices — from the agendas to weather has been conducive to a good spring practice," Reynolds said. "I don't know what coach thinks, but in my opinion, we've had a very good spring.

"Now, we've got a long ways to go and we have got a lot of work ahead of us. Can we improve? Yeah, we can improve a lot. But looking at the overall picture, the way we have done this, it has been excellent."

Crowton and Reynolds both believe execution has improved. Protection must get better, but that is addressed by new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. There is plenty of room for optimism, and part of it centers on additional talent at the receiver spot. "That's made a difference for us and recruiting paid off," Reynolds said.

The new faces are Todd Watkins and Mike Morris, both junior-college transfers on board for spring. There are other receiver recruits who will arrive in August. But filling out the stable hasn't diluted the stock. Veterans like Chris Hale and Rod Wilkerson have stepped up their game and are more healthy than in 2003.

"Still," cautions Reynolds, "What it will boil down is how well the offensive line and the quarterbacks do. "Those are the two areas that will determine how well we do and I say that knowing that it's more than just them. It's just that the way they play is so huge."

On Saturday, the public can peek in LaVell Edwards Stadium and decide for themselves if that side of the ball has taken baby steps or participated in a long jump event this winter.

Chance are, the most notable measurement will be in the basics — the offense looks more polished in the simple things like route runs, catching and blocking down field to spring teammates.

It's a step long overdue in Provo.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com