Anxious to please.
That could be the theme for the first week of BYU spring practice after three sessions that concluded on Friday in the indoor practice facility. A new set of defensive coaches led by new coordinator Jay Hill are meticulously installing new pressures and coverages, and players are energized to show what they can do and make an impression.
And yes, everyone is flying around.
When Friday’s practice finished and players and coaches were doing interviews, a good number of players remained with their coaches and continued to work on post-practice sets. It went on so long that head coach Kalani Sitake signaled for an aide to strategically tell the lingering team members to head to the locker room — another sports team was expected to use the building.
The extra time was being put in by USC/Pitt transfer QB Kedon Slovis, a trademark he has established the first week — to work longer. The other group included linebackers with coaches Justin Ena and Kelly Poppinga.
“Kedon is used to being QB1 and you can see it,” said Sitake.
Had a nice visit with Kedon Slovis after practice tonight. Impressive young man. He said it feels like he’s been here forever. Looking forward to watching him play on Sept. 2! #BYUFOOTBALL @YsGuysLive @BYUSportsNation pic.twitter.com/ek0livuzSx— Dave McCann (@DaveMcCannTV) March 11, 2023
“There are a lot of changes, both schematically and with new guys out there,” said defensive tackle John Nelson. “Because so much of it is new and all of us are learning it, it’s not like the older guys have any advantage over expectations.” Nelson said he believes one-third of BYU’s new defense under Hill has been installed in the first week.
So, what’s new?
“More aggression from the tackles to get upfield and make plays, more pressure from the ends, the defensive ends are pushing hard.”
Friday was the first day of full pads, which translated into physical contact at the line of scrimmage. There, Sitake said a big, experienced offensive line was giving the defense a lot of looks. Because new players were being introduced to the field, many back from two-year missionary service, Sitake said some hadn’t tackled anybody in three years.
“The offense has the advantage right now, but there are plenty of players doing good things on defense.”
Spring marks the squad undergoing lifting and conditioning with new leadership in the weight room, and players have noticed a difference the past two months.
“I think we’re working smarter,” said Nelson.
“Obviously you want to be a strong football player, but it got to the point we would do too much and guys were getting injured. We’ve put an emphasis on reaching a certain level of strength and now we’re working smarter and getting faster,” said Nelson.
“That’s the difference between the NFL and college. Everyone in college is strong, but NFL players are strong, fast and athletic, so we are trying to emulate that in our training.”
Sitake said the conditioning focus has been on innovation — using the latest techniques and beliefs — and on specialization. “The key is you can get strong in the weight room, but it has to translate onto what you do on the field,” said Sitake.
On Monday, BYU’s kicking game struggled with some big-time field goal failures. Sitake called it “horrible.” On Friday, it looked like the new kickers on the team had gained some confidence. Justen Smith hit a 43-yarder and Will Ferrin had the distance from 48 yards that bounced off the left upright.
Sitake said he believes the kickers will thrive in an active competition and confidence will pick up. “We have Kelly Poppinga coaching special teams and Jay Hill is very experienced in coaching special teams. I feel like we got a two-for-one there.”
In addition to Slovis, Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan had impressive reps. Tight end Ethan Erickson, playing behind Isaac Rex, has stood out, and converted QB Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters has had some outstanding runs as an RB.
Among VIP attendees on Friday were former Philadelphia Eagle players Reno Mahe and Vai Sikahema.