Getting the most out of less

A frustrated but resilient Coach Mendenhall and his staff have been walking a fine line between keeping a serviceable team healthy while continuing the overall team progression. There have been some practice modifications to try and walk that line as best as possible. However, the team's potential can't be reached without a fully healthy team practicing under full conditions.

Practice has changed somewhat in regards to the length and focus of specific practice periods. There has been more time spent on skeli drills, seven-on-sevens and routes on air to compensate for the lack of available linemen and to further prevent injuries.

"We've really lengthened our pass skeli because of our linemen situation, so we're getting a ton of work for our quarterbacks," said Coach Mendenhall. "Not only Riley [Nelson], but some of the others that will hopefully distinguish some depth issues a little bit further down. Team work is about all we can handle. We've got about fifteen minutes and that's about what we can do."

It's common sense to know that in order to further hone one's skills, there has to be equal or greater force of resistance. Right now, with many players on offense being held out, a more experienced defense just isn't being tested enough in ways that would allow for it to progress even further.

"Yeah, anytime you play you want to play against their best guys," linebacker Spencer Hadley said. "It hurts especially not having the starting line in there because everyone who knows football knows how important it is to have the starting o-line in there. Without your starting offensive line in there, you can't open up holes as well and you can't establish your running game.

Pass skeli drills benefit the offense but take away the physical advantage afforded to the defense. The defensive line also isn't getting a real-time feel and look up front either.

"Everything starts up front on both sides, so when one side isn't at their best it hurts the other side as well," Hadley said. "Everybody knows that's where the game starts, so our defensive line isn't getting much time to polish up the things they're learning in position drills and things like that. It's a tough thing because you have to find that balance, but I feel like we know what we can do."

Without a healthy and fully serviceable offensive line to suit up in full pads, it not only makes it difficult to develop the chemistry up front, but it also hinders the development and evaluation of the running backs.

"Yeah, the run game in general is hard to get any work in," Coach Mendenhall said.

"I have a lot of respect for our offense and we all know that they're not at their full strength right now," said Hadley. "We want our offense to be at full strength because then we get a better look as well and that helps us to play faster as a defense."

Last Tuesday, the quarterbacks didn't complete a single pass while scrimmaging. The defense pressured up front, squeezing the quarterbacks and forcing them out of rhythm. Throughout the entire course of spring camp, the offense has only completed four touchdowns during team period, something not expected when it comes to a BYU offense.

"Well, that's four too many," said safety Daniel Sorensen. "That's four too many for us. A lot of our guys back there have had a lot of game-time experience, so secondary maturity is what to credit that to more than anything. I think we're better than I've ever seen, and the only word I can use to describe our play is maturity."

Sure, while there is more experience in the talented defensive backfield, and more defensive cohesion this year than last, there are some specific offensive deficiencies that have further aided the defensive success over spring camp.

"When you can't establish your running game, your play action game doesn't work," said Hadley. "The play action part of our offense is something we did more of last year to help the passing game more and keep defense guessing. When you take that part of the game away, it really limits the offense terribly."

So in order for the defensive coaches to continue to try and squeeze every ounce of progress out of this defense, the team has to regain its full strength. In the meantime, the defensive coaches have to maintain that defensive-minded culture of not easing up or becoming unfocused. To their credit, they've done just that.

"I feel like our coaches push us to be competitive and to stay focused and keep that aggressive mentality regardless of who is on the other side of the ball," said Sorensen. "I don't think it's hurt us in that way."

"Yeah, our coaches have done a great job in keeping us focused and making sure we're not letting up," Hadley said. "They know our offense is struggling, but that doesn't mean we can take it easy on them or let up, and our coaches have made sure that this hasn't been the case. If we do that, we're only hurting the offense in the end."

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