Wintry weather in March along the Wasatch Front taking its toll on Cougars’ spring football plans
In a limited mid-camp scrimmage held indoors Saturday, rebuilt defense got the better of offense, apparently
BYU football coach Kalani Sitake wanted to conduct a closed-to-the-public scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday to mark, roughly, the midway point of spring camp.
Mother Nature had other ideas.
The latest winter storm to hit the Wasatch Front dumped a fresh layer of snow on the field at LES, so the Cougars were forced to go inside the Indoor Practice Facility, and moved the scrimmage up to 8 a.m. because the IPF was scheduled for other activities later in the day.
“I wish we could have actually scrimmaged (more) today. It was more of a practice. But I think the defense got us today, if I am going to be honest. We didn’t look the sharpest on offense today.” — BYU receiver and punt returner Hobbs Nyberg.
“Yeah, we started with meetings at 7:40 (in the morning),” said sophomore safety Talan Alfrey. “I can’t remember a time that I have done football this early, but it wasn’t that bad. It was a good time to start.”
So which unit won the day?
Punt returner and backup receiver Hobbs Nyberg gave the nod to the defense, which is being reconstructed by new defensive coordinator Jay Hill and apparently coming along nicely. Media members were not allowed to watch any portions of the practice/scrimmage.
“I wish we could have actually scrimmaged (more) today,” Nyberg said. “It was more of a practice. But I think the defense got us today, if I am going to be honest. We didn’t look the sharpest on offense today.”
Not surprisingly, Alfrey agreed.
“Maybe I am a little biased, but I will go with the defense,” said the native of Auburn, Washington. “…Just by the amount of plays that the defense made today, vs. the plays and touchdowns the offense had. It was pretty even, but I would say the defense takes it.”
Sitake called it “a good day” overall and said they will adjust their schedule next week and probably do a little more live work earlier in the week to get more ready for “that spring showcase or practice or whatever we decide to do next week on Friday.”
That event will be open to the public and will be conducted in conjunction with the second annual Alumni Game, after last year’s game featuring the has-beens was such a resounding success.
“I thought the offense and defense had some battles,” Sitake said of Saturday’s early-morning drills. “We put them in some situations, backed up, two-minute, had some red zone work. Guys did really nicely.”
One guy who shined, Sitake said, was junior college transfer quarterback Jake Retzlaff, who has been limited in camp because due to a tonsillectomy and some related setbacks.
“It was good to get Jake Retzlaff back in the flow of things. I thought he had his best day today,” Sitake said. “But (presumed starting QB) Kedon (Slovis) and the boys are still working and the competition at quarterback still looks good.”
Sitake said the Cougars are doing more live 11-on-11 work, with tackling, than ever before in the spring, but quarterbacks are still wearing the green jerseys and are off-limits to contact.
“I like that (Retzlaff) was able to do a lot more today, and run the 11-on-11 part and be in the huddle and go through a two-minute situation,” Sitake said. “I think we have seen what the other guys can do, too. Cade Fennegan is doing some good things, Nick Billoups (too), and (freshman) Ryder Burton.
“It is good to see Jake out there. He hasn’t been completely healthy and now today he did the most,” Sitake continued. “He’s got a live arm, a really strong arm. He’s got a presence about him that is really confident and kinda extends to the rest of the offense.”
Along with the battle to be QB2 and the emphasis on playing as much real football as possible in getting ready for the Big 12, a big storyline throughout spring practices has been the defense’s progress under Hill, and how the installation of his schemes is coming along.
Sitake said it is going well.
“The defense is what is new. There is a lot of install going on, and the guys are really starting to take to it and there are minimal mistakes,” Sitake said. “It looked really good today, I thought. The amount of pressure we got in there, and the disruption (was evident). We created some turnovers. It was really nice for them. Jay is doing a nice job with his staff and with his defense.”
Asked to name a percentage of the new defense that has been installed, Sitake said “enough already” but didn’t really comply with the request.
Hill “is trying to basically feed them through a firehose, but that is how it has to happen,” Sitake said. “Our guys are smart. It just takes extra work on their behalf and I think they are understanding what we are doing. From what I have seen today, they are doing a great job with the install. I would say we are close to almost being complete with our install.”
Alfrey, who is competing with the likes of veterans Malik Moore and Micah Harper for one of the starting safety spots, said a lot of guys started studying film on the new defense months ago, and came into spring camp eager and prepared to run it live.
“As a safety, we have coach Hill in our room, so we are benefitting a lot from him, being in there and teaching us the whole defense. … It is like drinking out of a firehose, but we are able to take it, spend some extra time watching film on our own, and are able to pick it up.”
One of the drawbacks of going inside to play is that punter Ryan Rehkow is so good that some of his punts hit the ceiling at the IPF and make it difficult to practice punt returns and punt coverages, Nyberg said.
“When he really gets into it he will boot it off the (bottom) of the roof a lot. It makes it rough to get a good look, though,” Nyberg said. “We are like, ‘Lay off the juice and give us a good look.’”
Speaking of the kicking game, Sitake said it was much better Saturday than it has been — which is to say it has been bad, quite frankly, as BYU looks to replace Jake Oldroyd.
“I thought kicking today was much better than it has been, and it was nice to see our kicker in a two-minute situation kick some (game-winning) field goals today, and I thought it was really nice,” Sitake said. “Sorry you guys didn’t get to see it.”