On Friday Wagner ran through position drills. He admitted that although he might know the defense, getting himself back to the physical level required to play on Coach Mendenhall's defense has been a little challenging.
"I don't know if I'm so much behind as far knowing the defense," Wagner said. "I love our defense and there's not a whole lot that's new. Right now my biggest thing is just getting back and moving again like I used to, and getting back into football shape takes some time. I think that's my biggest issue right now. It'll take a few practices to get back to that level where I'm moving fast and reading quickly, and hopefully by next week I should be good."
After racking up 37 tackles and one sack last season, Wagner admits it was challenging to watch the team practice from the sidelines.
"Well, I'll tell you what, it's hard to watch your team play without you," said Wagner with a smile. "It kind of sucks not being out there with them, but having watched the team, I'm very impressed. I hate standing on the sidelines. Some people might think it's [nice] missing practices, but I would much rather be out there sweating and dying with my teammates than standing on the sidelines getting no reps."
Now that he's rejoined his teammates, Wagner has seen firsthand the increased performance of the Cougar offense under new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman.
"I'm happy with our offense and they've really matured a lot," said Wagner. "It just surprised me. I had heard we had a good offense, but in seeing them perform they really surprised me.
"As a defense you want to have a good offense to make you better, and we already have a great defense, but now we've got a really good offense to help further that growth process."
Now that Wagner is back practicing with the defense out on the field, he's noticed the rise in both the quality of the defensive performance and the level of talent throughout the depth chart.
"Having been a part of our defense last year, I was really confident in our team having worked with them every day," Wagner said. "This year, we're even better as a defense this year and I'm really excited. We're going to have a good team because we have a lot of talent and depth."
While Kyle Van Noy, Jordan Pendleton and Jameson Frazier can – and have during fall camp – switched from Sam to Will and vice versa, Wagner is a one-position player.
"Those guys can switch back and forth and have played both positions," Wagner said. "I'm just strictly a Will guy."
Although a starter last year, Wagner will have to compete with Van Noy and Ezekiel Ansah for playing time, a difficult challenge for anyone who's missed so much of spring and fall camp.
"There's Kyle and Ziggy out there at the Will spot and they're doing a great job," Wagner said. "Jameson is mostly now playing the Sam spot. As of right now, it's mostly just Kyle, Ziggy and myself that are playing the Will spot."
While he has the daunting challenge of beating out a linebacker in Van Noy that Coach Poppinga claims could be the best to ever play the position at BYU, Wagner is realistic but optimistic about his chances of contributing.
"I don't know what's going to happen for that starting spot, but I know I have a lot of work to do," Wagner admitted. "I think I'll have the opportunity to play at some point in time. Kyle is such a great athlete and is better than I am at doing certain things, and I like to think that there are some things that I'm better at, so we'll see what happens.
"One thing is for sure, we'll both play to our strengths and the coaches will use those strengths to help the defense. It all depends on what team we're playing and what down it is. From a team perspective, we're strong. We have depth and we have a lot of talent and players that can play. It should be a good season for our team this year."