The Soelberg Rundown

BYU's speedy senior cornerback Nate Soelberg gives his views of BYU's thin but ever improving defensive secondary. He also discusses what's it is like covering the new wide receiver additions in BYU's revamped passing offense.

"We're thin, we're thin, but I think Soelberg is developing, I think Hutchinson's still trying to come off his mission and O'Neil Howell needs to make the most of the opportunity that he's being given him," said BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall of his corberbacks. "Kayle Buchanon, we're ready for him to come back as soon as we can get him back. There's going to be a great opportunity for some young players to play in the secondary."

With the graduation of Jon Burbidge, Brandon Heaney, Micah Alba and Aaron Francisco, BYU's secondary is looking to rebuild a solid core of secondary defenders that can rise to any challenge.

"That is a huge thing," said Soelberg of his departed secondary teammates. "When we had the banquet and I saw Francisco, Burbidge, Heaney and Micah up there, I got the chills just seeing those guys up there because they were such great leaders. That's one thing, they were a cohesive unit and we have to be like that too. We don't have as much experience together, but I know once we do we can have the cohesiveness those players last year had."

Soelberg feels this defensive core can rise up to the challenge and is working harder to be as good or better than they were last year.

"I think we have great potential with Coach Mendenhall at the helm," said Soelberg. "We're working even harder than last year, which is unbelievable. It's all about effort just like coach Mendenhall says, and we probably all sound like Mendenhall when we comment, but it's really etched into us that effort is the key to this defense. We all have our own athleticism and when you put together with effort, I mean, it's hard to replace Aaron Francisco because he was unbelievable, but if we come together as a defensive unit, well be fine."

As the lone returning starter from last year cornerback group, Soelberg is poised to be the starter come fall.

"Every year I seem to start off on a better foot than the year before," Soelberg said. "Then at the same time being a senior I recognize more things that I can work on. Being a senior it's a lot different. I haven't been a senior since high school and it kind of feels the same way. Being a team leader and trying to do your best."

With BYU's new passing offense being run like a revolving door by the all three units, the defense is getting a workout they've never experienced before, having to continually cover receivers scurrying about the field in every direction.

"These are the hardest practices I've ever been to," said Soelberg, inhaling deeply between sentences. "I didn't catch my breath once today. I'm still breathing hard right now, and it's been a long time since that's happened. These practices you know you're not going to have time to catch your breath."

Another reason for the tough spring practices comes from every single player giving it 110% in the effort department. With Mendenhall and his staff continually raising the intensity and effort bar designed to achieve maximum results, the players on the field know there can be no let up. This has translated into very intense and competitive practices.

"These are the hardest practices ever, and you know what, I can't really pin point what it is, but it's something because I can't breathe," said Soelberg. "It's just a lot more running and a lot more team enthusiasm I think has a lot to do with it. Everyone is stepping it up so it makes you have to step it up."

This offensive conveyor belt keeps spitting out receivers one after another. It may be tough on these defensive backs, but the workout this corps is getting is helping to improve these young defenders hone their skills and increase their experience level.

"I'm loving the offense because every practice it challenges me. It seems like last year we kind of just got into the grove of things," said Soelberg. "This offense, it keeps you guess and you don't know what's coming. That's the best thing for us as corners, we get every aspect of what they're throwing at us.

"We're young. We've got three seniors now with Chris being a corner but we're young in experience. I think the biggest thing us corners can do this spring is watch film. You can watch five minutes of film before film sessions and you can get a feel of what's coming and it sticks with you longer for practice, and just work on the things coach Mitchell tells us during films. He critiques us every day and that's his job. We just take it and learn from it."

After practiced two years against Crowton's offensive style, Soelberg sees a big difference defending wide receivers between the two.

"It's just so spread and you gotta be on your toes," explained Soelberg. "It seems like the deep threat is more there than it was last year. There's just more wide outs and you have to keep your head on a swivel. I don't know what it is but they're completing more passes this year and that makes us excited as a defense because we know that both sides of the ball are working hard and that just makes us better."

The group of receivers that Soelberg faces each day in practice is significantly different from what he went up against last year. The most notable departure is that of freshman sensation Austin Collie who is now serving a mission in Argentina. The biggest change is not who left but who the new faces are. Michael Morris and Joe Griffin are back from injuries, Matt Smith is getting first team while Todd Watkins recovers from foot surgery, Bryce Mahuika moved over from running back and the speedy Saia Hafoka is coming off a redshirt year.

"It's not fair because we gotta run backwards," Soelberg said of covering Hafoka and Mahuika. "I'm fast and all but I don't know how fast I am running backwards. But that's another thing; It helps us with our technique and if I can get my technique down and if I'm in the right position I feel like I can run those guys, but they're tough. They're all just speedy guys and they're like pin balls out there and you just gotta hold on.

"Joe's a big receiver and he's one of those prototype guys. He's one of those types of receivers we faced a lot last year like at Notre Dame. They're all big, tall and thick receivers so it‘s good to have guys like Joe out there, and Mike [Morris] once he gets his foot healthy, he's quick and he's hard to chase around the field.

"Those guys [Matt Smith and Riley Weber] got great hands. Matt has had some great catches this early in practice. Just in the first four day's of practice I've really been impressed with him and it just shows you how deep we can be at receiver and they're very versatile. It seems like we have every type of receiver on this team."

With BYU using the tight ends to "catch first and block second," Soelberg has learned a more physical side of covering receivers, having to line up across from big tight ends like Coats, Niu, Harline and Gillespie.

"That's the thing, you hope they're not running on those type of plays because they'll come out and block you. We hope to cover them when they come out on us, but it's fun to cover them too because they're big and physical and that's where we need to be. We just need to be more physical as a defense and going against tight ends you don't get soft and you get your butt kicked, but it's nice to cover those guys too."

In parting Soelberg wanted to relay this message to BYU fans, "Be excited because if you're half as excited as we are, it's going to be an unbelievable season this year."

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