"We have a long way to go," said Coach Howell with a smile. "That's exactly what I saw after I watched the film from the spring game. We have a long ways to go."
For the most part the Cougar secondary struggled to match the offense's level of execution during the spring game, and that resulted in three touchdowns through the air. During Monday's practice, the secondary was able to do a much better job dealing with what the offense threw at it.
"Today we did a much better job of getting lined up and matching the pace of the offense and I think that's a good thing," Coach Howell said after Monday's practice. "I think some guys are trying really hard and some guys need to pick it up, but overall today was a much better day result in those two areas."
Because of the different stresses the offense is placing on the defense this year in spring practice, the secondary has had to learn to do specific things much quicker. One is communicating faster.
"It forces guys to be more vocal and communicate more efficiently and effectively," said Howell. "It all has to be done faster and those are some things we're trying to work out."
Overall the secondary has had to learn to make new adjustments based on the style of play of BYU's offense under Coach Anae. Senior safety and cornerback Mike Hague, who is the last remaining member of the class of 2006, has provided the most stability at the boundary cornerback position.
"He's good and he's got to make plays," said Coach Howell. "He's gotta make plays. Like today, he had a chance to intercept one down there [at the 5-yard line], and he's gotta intercept it. So, those are the kind of things he's gotta work on."
Meanwhile, senior Daniel Sorensen has been the steady rock in the Cougar secondary.
"He's just stable," said Howell. "I mean, he's played a long time, and he knows what he's doing. He just provides a little stability back there. He's continued to improve and he's just been really consistent back there. The thing he needs to improve on is he needs to hone in on his keys a little bit more because it's an option offense, so the reads are a little different than a conventional offense, so it forces him to concentrate a little bit more on his keys."
Although Craig Bills is a returning starter, he's missed quite a lot of spring camp due to an injury.
"Craig hasn't practiced very much so, you know, he missed a couple of weeks, so where he's at now is practice three because he hasn't practiced a whole lot," said Howell. "He hasn't been able to progress as far as he would like to or I would like to just based on repetition. He probably hasn't had a third of the reps, which that's a bummer. You know, with what he's done with the reps he's gotten, he's improved."
Backup safeties Drew Reilly and Michael Wadsworth have been backing up and rotating in with the first team when either Bills or Sorensen weren't able to go at various times during spring camp. However, they still have a ways to go.
"[Reilly's] been hurt and so he hasn't had a whole lot of chances to get a lot of reps," said Howell. "Michael is a hard worker, but they're at square one. They're just like incoming freshmen, so the learning curve is steep and they've got a lot to learn."
Regarding the rotation at safety behind Sorenson and Bills, Coach Howell said, "Today I would probably today go with Mike [Hague] next, and then if we can get Skye [PoVey] healthy, I would go with Skye. And then, you know, Drew [Reilly] and Mike [Wadsworth] and Blake [Morgan] are in the mix. So there's probably like five of them right there, so no one is really standing out yet."
At the field side cornerback position, the steady rock of consistency has been Jordan Johnson.
"He's done good," Howell said. "I mean, the tempo on the field is hard on him because he has to run the most, so he's probably the one that's had to run the furthest of anybody. Receivers are subbing and they get fresh guys, and he's just staying out there because we have no depth. There's no one rotating really with him, so he's taking a bulk of the reps. His conditioning I would say has probably improved the most."
While Johnson might do many things very well as one of the more talented cornerbacks in the program, he isn't perfect.
"He still has a few fundamental things he needs to work on," Coach Howell said. "I think tackling, he tackled well on Saturday. That's something that I've always seen him do. He's always been a good tackler, but in games last year I don't think he tackled all the time as well as he wanted to. I think on Saturday I saw him improve that."
So currently there are three players that Coach Howell feels confident in regards to being game-ready.
"There's a long ways to go," said Howell. "I would feel good about Daniel. I would feel really good about Jordan and where he's at. I feel really good about Craig but after that we have a ways to go, and the guys that have earned positions and roles, they've got a ways to go too."
Right now, the defense is still looking for a boundary side corner.
"I'm not sure who it's going to be right now," Howell said. "Today it would be Mike [Hague]. He's done some good things but he's been limited as far as practice reps goes. He's been hurt so he needs more repetition over there. It's not easy to go back and forth from safety to corner, so he's getting half the reps when he does half safety/half corner. He's not getting all the reps right there and he's been hurt, so we'll find out who it is, but whoever it is will be really good. I'm just not 100 percent sure right now."
Depth at the boundary side is still in the progression stage. Howell feels there's a long ways to go when it comes to developing the level of depth he wants at the boundary cornerback position.
"Nobody here at camp today is pushing," said Coach Howell. "I'm just being honest with you. That's the case. I mean, I don't see anyone out there besides Mike right now that has showed readiness enough for me to put in the football game."
When fall camp picks up a few months from now the secondary will have an injection of new talent to compete and push both at the safety and boundary side.
"We have two J.C. guys coming in and, I mean, we're not going to start over," said Howell. "We're going to start right where we left off and continue to go. There's no waiting. That's the thing, some of these kids come in and think there's time. Well, there is no time. You have to come in and you have to play right away and be ready. So, we have to get them the knowledge as fast as we can, they have to learn it as fast as they can, they have to learn to play as hard and fast as they can if they want a chance, then go from there, you know?"
BYU will also get two-sport athlete Jacob Hannemann in fall camp. Hannemann is currently playing baseball for the Cougars.
"I think he could be a really good player, but he's has a ways to go," said Howell. "We have two J.C. guys coming in that can push and make us better, so those are the guys that need to push and play. The guys right now, there's nobody that's really stood out in spring ball that maybe could play or made me think any different."
Having Hannemann done with baseball and part of the football program will be a welcomed addition. BYU needs more depth that can compete and be developed.
"He's on a football scholarship, and so the plan is for him to come and play football," said Howell. "He's just playing fulltime baseball right now and it's just too much for him right now to go back and forth and do academics. We'll get him in here for fall camp and go from there."