Part 1: What did we learn from Spring practice?

BYU spring football has come and gone. Cougar coaches and players walked or limped away with certain knowledge of what each needed to do between now and the beginning of summer practices to be battle-ready -- and prepared to take on their toughest football schedule ever.

QUARTERBACKS:

* Matt Berry is the guy. Todd Mortensen looked impressive last Saturday. John Beck is moving up the depth chart. Jackson Brown shows good athleticism and talent. Lance Pendleton may move to the defensive side of the ball.

"Matt Berry is just head and shoulders better than he was last year," according to head coach Gary Crowton. "He just knows what the offense is. But even more than that, he knows how to use the offense against the defense which is what we struggled with last year."

Berry struggled last season, but showed some flashes of brilliance, raising hope and optimism for the future -- and the future begins this fall.

Most of Berry's failures during last season can be chalked up to inexperience and bad reads of the defense. This was particularly the case against New Mexico where he couldn't do much of anything right. Their scheme was based on masking their coverage schemes and disrupting the flow of the offense.

What has impressed us about Berry so far this spring is his accuracy. We also like his improving mobility. He will never be a Steve Young, but he has decent mobility for his size and good pocket awareness.

Berry's natural abilities, coupled with a year's experience under his belt, lead us to believe that Berry should have a successful 2003 outing.

* Todd Mortensen has improved from last year and is very steady and consistent in practice. He has performed admirably in all the practice scrimmages and in last Saturday's B&W Spring game.

Mortensen is a very competent back-up for Berry, which may afford Crowton the luxury of redshirting John Beck if he chooses to.

* Lance Pendleton saw a shortened Spring when he broke a bone in his throwing hand. He should be ready to go come fall. But where will he be placed?

Coach Crowton has indicated he is seriously considering moving Pendleton to DB or WR position in the future. Pendleton also played DB in high school.

Pendleton did show well in the limited amount of time he saw prior to that injury. He again showed great mobility coupled with moderate armstrength. He's definitely improved from last year.

* John Beck has generated a fair amount of excitement and it's easy to see why. The first thing that jumps out at you is how strong his arm is. He can get it there without a lot of air under the ball. Beck also shows very good mobility in and out of the pocket. He's relatively quick on his feet and has good scrambling ability.

"He throws the ball hard all the time. I don't know if his arm's any stronger, but he throws harder. He's pretty accurate," Crowton said. "Beck still tends to hold the ball a bit longer since he's just fresh off his mission. He's learning to adjust while learning the offense, but he's making some good strides."

Crowton acknowleged that Beck is farther along than Berry was this time last season. Beck shows a lot of potential and will only work harder to push Berry as he gains a better grasp of the offense. Beck did not disappoint during spring practice and performed even better than we expected.

* Jackson Brown is a pleasant surprise. While his arm strength isn't up to par with the other quarterbacks, Brown shows very good mobility for a player of his size (6' 4"). He looked poised and impressive at different moments during last weekend's Spring game.

Overall, the talent and ability at the Quarterback position is far better at this point than last year.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

No position on this year's team deserves more scrutiny than the Offensive Line. Quite simply, this unit will be the key to this year's Cougar success on the field.

Let's be honest here: Last season's offensive line was incapable of getting a successful push during short down situations, leading to an abominable third and short conversion rate. Pass blocking remained suspect throughout the year and the offensive line has much to improve upon.

Will the Offensive Line be better as a unit this coming year? We would argue that it can't be worse, so the answer is "Yes!"

"We're getting a lot better. We're doing a good job communicating. I think we're coming together as a group. I think we're really united and we're starting to play smart," says designated OL leader Scott Jackson.

Playing smart and playing together is what the offensive line did NOT do last year, according to Jackson. This mandate becomes more critical if Crowton starts as many as three freshmen Offensive Linemen this fall -- Jake Kuresa, Ofa Mohetau and Eddie Keele.

* Ofa Mohetau is the best Offensive Guard prospect nationally coming out of high school this year. He has been timed 4.75 in the forty and bench presses 435 pounds as a 17-year-old senior. He will definitely get a good look by Crowton and the other coaches when he arrives in Provo this summer.

"It depends on how Ofa does. I feel like Ofa physically is good enough to play as a true freshman. But you just have some questions on how quickly he's going to adapt to the new environment and the team; how quickly he'll learn the offense. If the other guys are playing well with good chemistry, then we might not have to do that."

Most top college coaches and pro scouts predicted Mohetau was good enough to start for any football program in the country as a freshman. Why would BYU be any different? When it comes to run blocking, his game tapes show he has NO equal in the high school ranks. The key is how quickly he can learn to effectively pass block. The sooner he does, the sooner he starts. Don't be surprised to see him start early in the season.

* Jake Kuresa is someone we have watched very closely throughout the Spring. Kuresa is a very effective run blocker. He pull blocks extremely well and is a load at over 340 pounds.

Like Mohetau, Kuresa also needs work with pass blocking, but he made noticable progress in that regard throughout the Spring. Simply, Kuresa is an above average run blocker and an average, but improving pass blocker at this juncture.

* Eddie Keele screamed onto the scene immediately following his mission and saw action with the first team throughout the Spring. He got his proverbial "baptism by fire" going up against Brady Poppinga throughout Spring practice.

Keele has very quick feet for a player of his size and good height for an Offensive Tackle. He still has a ways to go to learn all the different assignments, picking up blitzes and stunts, but we like what we've seen thus far.

Jackson commented on Kuresa and Keele: "They're going to help a lot. Both of them are very talented. They're young, they're energetic and they're tough kids."

Another OL veteran who will figure prominently this fall will be Quinn Christensen. Christensen has taken a very active role in working with both Keele and Kuresa this spring. His experience will be invaluable as he and Jackson continue to help their teammates learn their assignments.

One player that impressed us during Spring practice was Brandon Stephens. Stephens arrived to Provo to high expectations and was rated as a 4-Star tight end recruit. After brief stints at both the tight end and defensive end positions, he has found a home on the Cougars Offensive Line.

His position coach, Lance Reynolds noted: "He's so much better than where he was last year. His mobility, size, technique and everything else is so much better."

* Scott Young also made the switch over to the Offensive Line after last season. If BYU has the luxury of redshirting him, he may be a major impact player in his new role. He saw action mostly with second teamers at the OG position during the spring. In the limited reps with the first-teamers, he always performed well.

* Paul Fisher missed most of spring practice because of injury, but played toward the end and looked very good. He played with the second squad and showed great mobility and technique. He's certainly one to watch in the future as he continues his improvement. He may be a surprise this fall.

* Vincent Xanthos cannot buy a break as he continues his challenges with injuries. He missed all of Spring practice again, but coach Crowton always mentions him as someone he's counting on to contribute.

* Hanale Vincent tried out the center position for the first time and thrived there. He was the back-up behind Jackson throughout spring. He struggled with snapping the ball early on, but improved as Spring practice progressed.

* David Sollami is back from his mission and practicing. He's playing with the third team OL unit right now as he slowly works toward moving himself into the rotation.

There has been noticable improvement on the Offensive Line with every scrimmage. If they continue, they could prove to be a very effective unit when they open up against Georgia Tech in late August.

One thing that should be significantly improved is run blocking. Having talented options in Kuresa and Mohetau up the middle should provide for a much greater push on inside running plays. Keele shows great mobility in leading sweeps and off tackle runs, as does Stephens.

Elementary evaluation of the talent would clearly indicate Cougar fans will be seeing a lot more effective running plays this coming year.

The veterans Jackson and Christensen are both vital cogs in this wheel. Their leadership, already evident during Spring, will be key in helping this unit develop.

We like what we've seen early on. We feel the Offensive Line should develop into a solid, and possibly very effective, unit by the time the season rolls around.

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