There is a third empty chair in BYU’s safeties room this week, what with redshirt sophomore Crew Wakley joining Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey on the sidelines after getting injured on the first play of the Cougars’ 38-31 win over Arkansas last Saturday.
“The guys that we have in our room, we can win with, and they are doing a good job, and they gotta continue to prepare the right way and when their number is called they gotta go in and perform.” — BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill
Because of the way Wakley smacked his head on 250-pound Hogs quarterback KJ Jefferson’s knee and then staggered off the field with the help of trainers, it appears the former Jordan High quarterback and Utah State safety sustained a concussion. BYU coach Kalani Sitake said Monday that Wakley’s injury is not season-ending, but he is doubtful for this Saturday’s Big 12 opener at Kansas (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
Harper and Alfrey have been out since early in preseason training camp, Harper having suffered a season-ending ACL tear and Alfrey having suffered a shoulder or collarbone injury. He has been seen around the practice facility with his right arm in a sling.
Defensive coordinator Jay Hill said Tuesday that they are hoping to get Alfrey back after the bye week and in time for the TCU game on Oct. 14.
“I don’t know what I am doing to those guys but we gotta keep them healthy somehow, someway,” Hill, a former University of Utah safety in his playing days, said on his “Coordinators’ Corner” program. “We are down three strong safeties right now, but that is part of college football.”
What the Cougars aren’t doing right now is panicking, Sitake said, noting that he feels “really good about the position” because Hill is coaching it, along with coordinating the defense.
“I have felt good about the depth there from the beginning,” Sitake said. “I have to be careful always bragging about depth that we have in our positions, but it has been tested, and it has been a great opportunity for these other young guys to get on the field.”
After Wakley went out, fifth-year senior Malik Moore — who started the first two games — replaced him and joined Ethan Slade in the defensive backfield. However, Moore took a bad angle on AJ Green’s 55-yard touchdown run, and when the Cougars’ defense returned to the field trailing 14-0 after a punt return for a TD, the safeties were Slade and Tanner Wall, a walk-on redshirt sophomore who began his BYU career as a receiver.
Wall is listed as the starting strong safety this week against the 3-0 Jayhawks, who Hill reminded reporters Tuesday have had the best offense, statistically, in the Big 12 the past two years.
“I thought Tanner came in and played a good game,” Hill said. “Someone is going to have to continue to step up, because it is a weird year right now in the safety room.”
Hill said he doesn’t envision having any players from other positions move to safety until Alfrey and Wakley return. Linebackers Isaiah Glasker, Chaz Ah You and Ammon Hannemann are among those who have played safety in the past.
“The guys that we have in our room, we can win with, and they are doing a good job, and they gotta continue to prepare the right way and when their number is called they gotta go in and perform like Tanner has done, like Slade has done,” Hill said.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Moore is a co-captain and has plenty of experience under his belt, so his slide down the depth chart is somewhat puzzling. Then again, it is a signal that on-field performance means more to Hill than reputation.
“I don’t know if (Moore’s demotion) is because of performance as much as the other guys are doing a good job,” Hill said. “They deserve to play. There are certain things that are expectations for everyone. You gotta go in and perform.”
Hill said he hasn’t lost trust in Moore, who started in four games last year before a season-ending hand injury.
“I trust all of our DBs. I trust our defense right now,” Hill said. “That doesn’t change the fact that whoever is in the game has gotta do what they are supposed to do and play at the level I expect them to play.”
Cougars on the air
at Kansas (3-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
Meanwhile, the 6-1, 200-pound Wall’s rise to starter means the Cougars will have walk-ons at both safety positions for their first-ever Big 12 game.
“I think it just goes to show that Coach Hill is going to play the best players. We are guys who work hard. Everyone in that room works super hard to earn opportunities,” Wall said. “Every day we gotta show up in practice and prove to him that we are the guys that should be on the field and as of right now we have been the guys who have done that and we will continue to do that.”