Sophomore cornerback Trevor Bateman is still a few months away from returning to the field after suffering a leg injury.
Junior college transfer Trent Trammell went down on the first day of spring camp with a leg injury, knocking the boundary cornerback out for the season. After being granted another year by the NCAA, Mike Hague was move over to fill in for Trammell, but is now sidelined with an injury of his own.
In place of Hague at the boundary corner spot is newcomer Jacob Hannemann, who has been thrown into the fire. Cameron Comer has also been competing and getting valuable reps in rotation at the boundary cornerback position.
"Well, now we have Jake out there and he playing a little getting reps," said Coach Howell. "We also have Cameron out there a little bit and he's doing alright. He and Jake have a long ways to go but they're working hard and competing."
Comer has taken first-team reps on defense, followed by Hannemann. At 6 feet and 192 pounds, Comer brings good size and physicality to the boundary side.
"He's long and a big, physical guy," said Coach Howell. "We like that part of his game, but we want him to be a little more urgent and understand to compete on every play."
Cornerback Adam Hogan is also banged up and, like Hague, not able to go at this time. Then add the fact that free safety Craig Bills is also on the injury list and hasn't participated in spring camp, while strong safety Daniel Sorensen has been used sparingly, and the coaches have to get a little creative in the defensive backfield.
"We're so banged up and have a lot of guys out because of injuries," said Coach Howell. "It's been one of those spring camps where you find guys to play and develop them every day. Craig [Bills] is banged up, Mike [Hague] is banged up, so after that you have a bunch of young guys. We have a couple of scholarship guys trying to figure it out and a couple of walk-ons who have a long way to go."
There is some good news however, as returning starter Jordan Johnson is healthy and has locked down the field side throughout camp.
"We have Jordan at field corner getting reps and he's experienced and a junior, so it's nice to have him out there getting that experience," Coach Howell said.
Johnson has escaped the injury bug that has bitten many of his teammates. He's had a very good spring camp so far and is a player Coach Howell sees as a lockdown corner.
"Jordan is an athlete and can basically handle his own on his side of the field," said Coach Howell. "He has to, you know? There's not a whole lot of help coming his way. He's a good player but, again, still needs to improve on some things."
Skill set evaluation: While Johnson possesses the most athleticism, quickness and speed of any cornerback currently on BYU's roster, there are still aspects of his game that he could improve. One is being more aware of the type of routes that come with down and distance. Johnson is a tremendous athlete and relies on that athleticism to beat his opponents, but he could give himself an even greater edge with more film study.
"He just needs to continue working on concentration all the time," said Coach Howell. "He just needs to get better at knowing what routes are coming, formations he should expect and be able to give himself a chance to defend the routes out there. He's on his own and does a really good job for the most part."
Coach Howell feels this year Johnson should continue to improve.
"He should take a big jump this spring because he's started for us as a sophomore," Coach Howell said. "Sure, there are things he can fix, but as a whole he should take a big jump in understanding and with the whole scheme of the defense. As of right now he's done nice but there are some things he can improve on."
Behind Johnson there isn't much depth, so it's important that he stays healthy throughout spring camp. Behind him are a few walk-on players who don't quite have the same level of talent nor scheme understanding.
"Not right now," said Coach Howell with a chuckle in his voice. "There's a few walk-on guys that have a long ways to go, but that's about it. They're progressing but this is a complex defense. You can't just walk in here and just start playing, thinking that's all it takes to master it. It takes a lot of time and effort to master. I mean, Daniel [Sorensen] is really good but he's been in the system for three years. Danny's getting reps and he'll be a senior, but needs to clean up some things."
The free safety position hasn't gone unscathed either. As mentioned, Bills hasn't participated in spring camp, thus forcing Coach Howell to play inexperienced players.
"We've got a couple of guys rotating in there right now," Howell said. "We've got Mike Wadsworth rotating in there right now. Then we have a little bit of Blake Morgan, and those two guys are really just starting to learn the system."
At strong safety, Sorensen is a big, physical safety with a few years of valuable experience. However, he has been used sparingly as a precautionary measure, allowing others to get experience.
"Daniel is out there but he's taking limited reps this Spring at the strong safety position," Howell said. "He started for us there last year and did some good things for us, but behind him we have Drew [Reilly] and Mike [Wadsworth], who are learning and starting right from ground zero."
Despite the youth and inexperience of many of these players taking the place of more experienced starters, all is not lost. In fact, allowing the less-experienced players to get valuable reps is actually a positive for BYU's secondary.
"Well, this is what spring is for," Coach Howell said with a chuckle. "It's about getting healthy for some players and allowing others to show us what they can do and learn their jobs, so there is some benefit to having some of the younger players get that type of experience and development."