Spring game victor looks ahead to the fall

Bronco Mendenhall came to BYU with a radically new defensive scheme, mindset and a tenacious attitude to match it.

Minutes after he led the Blue team Saturday to a 14-7 win over a White team led by new wide receiver coach Todd Bradford in the annual Blue & White spring game, his pre-eminent thoughts had already skipped ahead to fall football.

"The team has definitely bought into the mindset of what I'm trying to do out there."

From his first spring practice, it was readily apparent Mendenhall's chief concern and goal was to produce a certain "swarm mentality" and unprecedented from among all his defensive personnel.

"The effort level has been established within the defensive personnel and the coaches are on the same page as well. The thing I've also been encouraged with most is how willing the players have been to change, but the effort level has been established. There's a common goal now between the coaching staff and the defensive players."

"It could definitely be regarded as a theme we're putting out there. With the mentality we're putting forth and trying to teach these players is the need to finish every drill and play."

Players respond well to Mendenhall's new philosophy.

Jernaro Gilford: "I love it. We get to cover man to man the whole game and it's a blast. I can't wait. It's going to be fun. In my opinion we're going to be real good. I can't say how good. Deep inside of me, I have my own opinion of just how good, but I'm going to hold off for a while before I say anything. We're going to be real good."

Adds Chad Barney: "We all love it. It's all about effort and getting to the ball as fast as possible. My wife even noticed that we're running a lot more out there. If a play goes for 60 yards and you only run for 55 of those yards, then we know we'll hear about it."

Having set the effort quotient in place throughout spring practice, Mendenhall said he will switch the focus to execution in the fall.

"We're nowhere close to where we need to be execution wise along with having everything coordinated, but the defense has definitely bought into the mindset and I've been pleased with that."

Asked what specific changes he has brought to BYU during the spring, Mendenhall noted: "There's a number of things. When it's a blitz-based system, the effort level required to play that system is much higher than in a zone-based system, which they've been used to running in the past. That would be the #1 and most drastic change, I would think.

"The second thing would be the formation itself. We go with three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. We do that in an effort to get more speed on the field. With speed comes better conditioning, relentless pursuit and a defense that is better able to force mistakes and eliminate drives."

Regarding the overall defensive effort during Saturday's spring game, Mendenhall added: "I think you saw a lot of what we're trying to do today. We had a lot of plays against us, but several plays for us as well. We made some serious coverage errors and other mistakes, but as we begin to focus more on execution and coordination those mistakes will, hopefully, be eliminated."

Certainly, the key to Mendenhall's new defensive philosophy deals with confusing the offense and disrupting the timing and flow.

"We blitz more and we're playing more man-to-man. We go all out on every play for sure. Coach is having us line up far off of the ball to confuse the offense, so the quarterback won't know if we're in man-coverage, cover two or cover three, or whatever. It's all about confusing the quarterback and it's working," senior cornerback Gilford said.

Mendenhall reaffirmed "it's all about disrupting the rythmn of the offense. Most offenses are based on rythmn. So if we disrupt that, then we'll see a lot of success and we did that to some degree today during the game.

"I like where we're going. We have a lot of things to work on and we're nowhere close to where we need to be execution wise, but what I wanted to accomplish with them this spring I think was accomplished, for the most part, and we have a good foundation to build on come fall."

Regarding the immediate plans heading into the off-season following Spring practice, Coach Gary Crowton said: "We're going to give the players a couple of weeks off to recover a bit so they can concentrate on school some more as Winter Semester comes to end.

"Then the rest of the semester, we'll go four days a week conditioning and lifting so when we go home we can be in great shape and come back ready to go. If the players maintain that, then we'll be ready to go in the fall."

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