Fall practices have begun at BYU with several observations worth noting. Yesterday we touched on the offense and its complete overhaul under new offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Today we’ll run through the defense and what we’ve observed through two days of practices and interviews.
-Boundary corner deserves most of the attention on the defense despite the question marks surrounding the nose tackle position. A huge void was left by Preston Hadley’s graduation, injuries to Trent Trammell, Sam Lee and Mike Hague — leaving a lot of inexperience competing for the starting spot.
So far the reps have gone to true freshman Dallin Leavitt, who has earned some unique praise from defensive coordinator Nick Howell. In interviews Monday Howell raved about Leavitt’s dedication to football and becoming a great player, even comparing him to Austin Collie in that regard.
I’ve always loved Leavitt’s ability since he first committed to BYU, but you’ll forgive me for casting doubt on his ability to start at boundary corner as a true freshman. Leavitt has little corner experience from high school and, well, he’s a true freshman undergoing his first collegiate practice session.
Time will tell how effective Leavitt can be at the position, but it’s interesting how quick Howell has been to heap praise on the freshman. This isn’t the style Howell has set forth since joining the staff. Howell has always been a straight-shooter and extremely hesitant to point out and praise specific players, much less true freshmen who have completed two practice sessions.
Regardless of the player Leavitt proves to be this season, fans can expect him to be an outstanding player at BYU at either corner or at safety for the next 4-7 years.
-Robertson Daniel has shown good ability through two practice sessions and should make a strong bid for the starting boundary position. Daniel has extensive experience at the spot, but hasn’t played football for close to two years. We’ll see what strides he can make and don’t be surprised if he slowly, but surely takes away first-team reps from Leavitt.
-Jordan Johnson has looked particularly good opposite Leavitt at the field corner spot. He’s locked down his coverages and appears poised to make a lot of improvement on the very capable form he showed last season.
-The backup position behind Johnson remains a mystery and is completely wide open. Trevor Bateman is coming off a knee injury and has shown well in spots and the same can be said for Adam Hogan. Until future notice, I’ll continue to define Johnson as the most indispensable player on defense due to the anticipated drop-off of ability at field corner behind him.
-The safety spot looks strong and very capable with Daniel Sorensen at Kat safety and Craig Bills at free safety. Skye PoVey has seen most his reps at nickelback and will likely fill the role coaches hoped Mike Hague would assume prior to his injury issues.
-There isn’t a lot to report here and that’s a good thing. We all know the outside linebackers are extremely talented, but there are some question marks at inside linebacker.
Coaches seem extremely confident in Uani Unga and his ability to play the Mike position. Unga showed well in spots last season and should be able to match the play Uona Kaveinga provided last season.
-At buck the battle rages on between Tyler Beck and Manoa Pikula. Regardless of who is listed as the starter, I expect both players to be used frequently through the course of the season.
-Nose tackle is the stated biggest concern for coaches, but I continue to think they’ll be just fine at the critical position. Marques Johnson looks like a different player and has seen most of the first team reps and Tuni Kanuch is right there battling with him.
We haven’t seen much of JonRyheem Peoples yet, but he should make a strong bid when he’s able to practice on a full-time basis, which appears to be very soon. The 6-foot-6, 310 true freshman has experienced some nagging ankle issues at the start of practices.
I haven’t seen enough from Kalolo Utu or from Merrill Taliauli, but both players should see plenty of chances to prove themselves moving forward. Ultimately position coach Steve Kaufusi wants three capable nose tackles he can rotate throughout games.
-There’s a lot of kicking going on, but none of it beyond 37 yards. All kickers have looked consistent, which would be a major improvement from last season. I think coaches will be satisfied with a kicker who they can trust from 40 yards in — not all that concerned with ability to kick through long attempts.