PROVO — OK, so Mitch Payne has missed a few field goals in fall camp and freshman Riley Stephenson has showed impressive leg strength and accuracy.
But does that mean Payne's job as BYU's placekicker is in jeopardy? Not according to Payne or his coaches.
"Mitch Payne is our guy. He's going to be our field-goal kicker and he's going to do a great job for us," special teams coach Paul Tidwell said. "He's a seasoned guy, so we do have high expectations for him, but we expect he's going to have a great year."
Currently, besides field goals, Payne is also projected to handle extra points and kickoffs as well.
"That's something that I haven't been the best at in the past, but with my leg strength and being healthy this year, that's something I'm looking forward to doing," Payne said of his new duty as the kickoff guy.
The few flaws that Payne has shown in camp are explicable. He has a new long snapper, John Pace, and a new holder, Matt Marshall. He's also getting used to a new practice routine. Last year, he got most of his field-goal practice in prior to the team practice. This camp, he's been doing his kicking during the 11-on-11 sessions.
"He has to be ready all the time. He's on call and has to be ready to jump right in there in a game situation. This makes it more like a game situation, and he has to be prepared to run on there and make a kick when he gets the call," Tidwell said.
Also, Payne is working on getting his kicks off faster and with more elevation.
"I've got a much shorter approach this year, which is making my times a lot faster at getting through the ball, and my ball is getting up a lot higher this year as well. But I'm happy with the progress that I've been making," Payne said.
The junior from Weber High says his added leg strength will be noticeable.
"I've got a lot more leg pop, which is going to help on both kickoffs and field goals this year," he said.
Tidwell agrees and says the coaches are confident in Payne's consistency from at least 45 yards out. Last year, the longer attempts went to Justin Sorensen.
With Sorensen now serving an LDS Church mission, those duties will fall on Payne's shoulders this season.
"His leg is stronger, but he can still improve on his operation time, and he knows that and is working on that," Tidwell said. "But I think the confidence coach Mendenhall and coach (Patrick) Higgins have in him is good, and I don't think they'll hesitate to let him have a longer shot if we get in a situation like that."
Payne's longest make last season came from 45 yards. In practice Monday, he connected from 37 yards and 50 yards and, on Tuesday, he missed from 25 and 44 yards out while hitting attempts from 22 and 37 yards.
"That's something I'm going to have to continue to prove in practice before they let me do it in a game," Payne said of getting longer attempts this season.
As for the competition with Stephenson (who will be the Cougar punter and back-up placekicker), Payne says it's healthy for the team to have that kind of depth in the kicking game. Also, it has pushed him to improve.
"I think of myself as a competitive person, so when there's someone else in there taking some of my reps, that just makes me want to work that much harder to be better," Payne said.
BYU camp report
Day 15: Due to inclement weather, the Cougars practiced indoors on Tuesday morning — their second-to-last day of fall camp.
Injuries: Cornerback Lee Aguirre collided with receiver Luke Ashworth during 11-on-11 drills and hurt his elbow. But coach Bronco Mendenhall said it doesn't appear to be serious.
Next: The Cougars conclude fall camp today with a scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium.