BYU football coach Kalani Sitake has talked all winter about the need to get his players physically ready to compete and handle the rigors of a violent sport such as football, yet stay healthy so they are available when the real stuff starts this fall.

It is a fine line the seventh-year coach and his staff must straddle every time they practice. Such was the case Monday as the Cougars began their second week of spring camp.

There was plenty of hitting — not outright tackling to the ground, but a lot of thuds and pad-popping collisions — and physical play as the Cougars, in the words of receiver Chase Roberts, “really got down to business.”

With temperatures in the 30s in Provo, the Cougars went inside for their fourth overall practice and the team sessions got a little chippy, at least in the portion of practice that the media was allowed to watch. A couple scuffles broke out when plays ended, although nothing worrisome.

“We had a really good day,” Sitake said. “Now that we have pads on and we can do a little more hitting, and get some real football out there. We got a lot of 11-on-11 looks today and saw some young guys step up and do some really good things.”

Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said defensive players and coaches would like to see hitting and contact all the time, but realizes that can’t always be the case. Still, Tuiaki said the defense — viewed as younger and less-experienced than the offense — is coming along.

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“Our development is coming along,” he said. “We are farther ahead this year than we were last year at this time. There are some good things and some bad things. We are right where we need to be, I think.”

One question mark on defense is at safety: Who is going to team with returning starter Malik Moore?

Sitake said he is “comfortable” with the group they have, mentioning 2020 starting cornerback Micah Harper, Dean Jones, Talan Alfrey, Hayden Livingston, Morgan Pyper and Ammon Hanneman among those who are in the mix. He said hybrid defender Chaz Ah You is still rehabbing and not participating in contact portions of camp.

“It is a deep group. We just have to keep guys healthy, and depending on who we see the first week, will determine whether we see three safeties on the field, or two,” Sitake said. “We will decide that as we get closer to the game. But I feel that it is a deep group.”

After the first practice last week, Sitake said the defense understandably had some work to do to catch up with the offense, which is led by presumed starting quarterback Jaren Hall, an experienced offensive line and returning receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney. Throw in two transfer running backs who are “models of professionalism,” as offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick says, and the offense has a chance to be great in 2022.

“I think the defense is doing pretty well. Especially up front we are hanging in there,” Sitake said. “Offensively, if you are looking at it from a defensive perspective, there are a lot of great weapons on that side — guys that can run the ball and guys that can catch.

“Combined that with a quarterback (Hall) that knows what he is doing, and it is a tough task. But it will be good for the defense overall to learn that way,” he continued.

Monday, Hall, Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters got all the reps the last 20 minutes that the media watched, and Conover threw some outstanding passes, hooking up with Gunner Romney and Roberts for some big plays.

Hall showed he’s still got tremendous speed on that particular play, bursting up the middle on a QB draw similar to the TD run he had against Baylor. 

Sitake said they’ve already had some injuries, but nothing major.

“I think we prepared our guys (in the offseason),” he said. “Some guys get banged up. But it is football. I just don’t know any other way to do it, than have some physical parts of it.

“We want our guys to be smart, but at the same time I want our guys to improve,” he continued. “It is hard to improve when you don’t go full speed. The intensity has to stay up. I don’t know if we can be as physical like today the rest of the way, but we are going to try. We have to really push the limit in order for us to improve.”

Roberts, the receiver from American Fork High who got off to a slow start last season due to hip surgery a couple weeks before fall camp, said the past two practices have been really intense.

“Every time you get in pads, you want to hit, and prove yourself, and be physical. Of course, there are a lot of young kids that want to prove themselves, and it causes a little scuffle,” he said. “But yeah, that’s football.”

The Cougars will practice again Tuesday and Thursday this week. Wednesday and Friday are reserved for lifting and film viewing.

Also Monday, BYU announced that an Alumni Game will be held on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium and will be free and open to the public. Former Cougars Max Hall and Kevin Feterik will be the quarterbacks.