PROVO — BYU football made several notable changes prior to the 2018 season, with most of those changes deemed necessary to turn things around after a disastrous 2017 season. One significant move didn't seem necessary on its surface, however, but one game into the season that change looks to yield good results, although there's still a lot of work to be done.
Starting at cornerback throughout most of the 2017 season were then-sophomores Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner, with Warner's season cut short eight games into the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury. Among the myriad problems last season, the sophomores acquited themselves relatively well, playing a position that's historically a weak spot in the program.
Despite their relative successes, coaches opted to switch both players to safety, which has been one of the more oft-reported player personnel stories throughout the offseason. During the season-opening 28-23 win over Arizona, both players were used extensively, finally giving a glimpse as to if the decision was a good one.
"I think it went well. I thought we were clicking well for us," Warner said. "It's been playing out well in practice. We've been meshing better and better with everytime we're out there, and we weren't perfect by any means on Saturday. But it's coming, and we're confident. It's coming natural."
What's ultimately developed is Warner and Ghanwoloku rotating through the safety spots with fellow junior Austin Lee. All three players have earned the trust of defensive coaches throughout fall practices, although Lee came into the season with the most practice reps at the spot.
For my first start at safety, I think I did a pretty good job, but there’s absolutely things I need to work on. – Troy Warner
Still, all three lack quality experience at the positions, which makes the solid performances in Saturday's win promising for the near future, considering all have one year left of eligibility after this season.
"We have three safeties that we rotated and all of them did a pretty good job," said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. "If we can keep all them healthy and all of them playing, then that will be huge for us this year because we have to have depth at that position. We need another guy to step up and emerge so we're comfortable with having four."
The players mentioned vying for the fourth safety spot are senior Sawyer Powell, along with juniors Isaiah Armstrong and Austin Kafentzis.
"One of those guys really have to emerge so we can form a good two-deep (roster), but right now we're really happy with the three," Tuiaki said.
Warner missed all of the spring practices recovering from his injury, but worked effectively throughout fall practices to where he was able to play for all of Saturday's win.
"For my first start at safety, I think I did a pretty good job, but there's absolutely things I need to work on," Warner said. "Reading quarterback's eyes and making sure I'm coming down at correct angles. Just things like that and just getting comfortable. It's coming and feel we're coming well together as a group."
Warner's older brother, Fred Warner, played at linebacker while at BYU, although his outside position was often referred to as a sort of fifth safety by coaches. Fred took the opportunity to watch his younger brother's first go at the position, although he couldn't give it his complete attention.
"He was having a dinner at his coach's house, so he couldn't just sit and watch it on the TV," Troy said of Fred, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers after last season. "He watched it on his phone, though, and he told me he loved what he saw. He says everything is good."