Spring football camp in 2022 is in the books for the BYU Cougars, wrapping up Thursday with a non-padded practice held in front of hundreds of former players before 50 or so headed over to LaVell Edwards Stadium for an alumni game.

Coach Kalani Sitake pronounced the 15 practices — no spring game was held this year — a rousing success, saying they provided a benchmark to determine where his program is at in regards to talent level.

Sitake said practices Monday and Tuesday were held in pads and there was a lot more live, 11-on-11 work those days. Thursday was about prepping for the opener and building chemistry.

“It’s OK that the offense is ahead. You could have predicted that going into it. It just helps when they have so much depth at O-line. It is good to have a big front to start with.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.

“I think today was just to kind of get a jumpstart on South Florida (in the opener on Sept. 3), and kinda scout them a little bit, and give our guys something to think about going into the offseason,” he said.

To nobody’s surprise, the offense is ahead of the defense at this point, Sitake said. That side of the ball has almost everybody back, while the defense is without healing starters Payton Wilgar, Keenan Pili and Chaz Ah You, among others.

“I think it depended on the practice, but I think overall the offense is a little bit ahead,” Sitake said. “They have a few more veterans on their side. But the defense is capable of catching up.”

The coach said the more starters such as defensive end Tyler Batty and Malik Moore were allowed to perform, the better the defense looked. 

“By the time we get to fall camp it will be interesting to see how much progress they have made. It will be fun when we’ve got these guys lined up and competing against each other in fall camp,” he said. “It’s OK that the offense is ahead. You could have predicted that going into it. It just helps when they have so much depth at O-line. It is good to have a big front to start with.”

Linebacker Ben Bywater didn’t argue much when he was told that Sitake said the offense is a bit ahead.

“The offense looked great this spring,” Bywater acknowledged. “The defense, we have a lot of things we need to work on. There are a bunch of injuries right now. We are just getting guys who are new in there, getting their feet under them. It is just something we have been working on as a unit, especially as linebackers.”

With Pili, Wilgar, Ah You and Max Tooley doing very little in camp, if anything, Bywater said younger guys like Jackson Kaufusi, Josh Wilson, Michael Daley and Kavika Gagnier are getting valuable reps.

“I am excited about our offense, though,” he said. “Take nothing away from them. I am excited to see Jaren (Hall) go to work this fall. As a defense, we have to match it.”

Hall, the unquestioned starter coming out of spring camp for the first time in his career, said the offense had a nice camp but is far from satisfied.

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“We got a lot of work to do, still. We are never satisfied, never content with where we are at. We can always get better,” he said. “So that’s kind of the mentality we will have going into the summer. We did a lot of great things this spring. We got a lot better in a lot of different areas. A lot of guys are coming along and learned a lot and contributing. We still got a lot of things to learn and get better at.”

What’s next?

Sitake said the players will get most of April off to work on academics and heal up, then get back at it with player-run meetings and practices in May, June and July.

Coaches will conduct “exit interviews” with players and be honest and forthright with them regarding their futures in the program, he said, noting that some guys will head to the transfer portal in search of more playing time. Ten players have entered the portal since last season ended, most recently running back Sione Finau and linebacker Viliami Tausinga.

“I just don’t want players to ever guess what coaches are thinking,” Sitake said of the importance of communication and interviews in April.

Along with all those former players, a special guest at practice Thursday was Patti Edwards, wife of the late LaVell Edwards. 

“Yeah, we love having Patti here. We try teaching the players about LaVell and his influence in the program and really educate them on all the coaches,” Sitake said. “Coach (Gary) Crowton has been here, and the alumni that played for him, and also coach Bronco Mendenhall. I think it is important that our guys know the history here at BYU and appreciate all the hard work and sacrifice all these men made for our program to be currently where it is right now, and that is going into the Big 12 next year. We have a lot of people to thank.”