Now Coach Mendenhall has turned to a new defensive scheme to better fit the strength of his defensive personnel.
"It's similar to the offensive scheme in whatever you're doing," John Beck said. "You want to use the talent you have. On offense if you have somebody that can make plays or have an aspect of your offense that is really good, you want to use that. It's the same thing on defense. You look at the Pittsburg Steelers and they have somebody as versatile as Troy Polamalu. They try to put him everywhere and blitz him from every direction to use him as much as they can because of how talented he is."
The strength of BYU's defense will come in the form of a solid core of talented, confident, battle tested linebackers. There is a new buzz of excitement surrounding the defensive players for a few different reasons.
"The linebackers love it," said Beck of the 3-4-4. "I'm sure they are excited to perform their new goal. We don't have the same kind of secondary now and there is no such thing as a Cougarback. Everything has really kind of changed now and the players are looking forward and excited because of what they can do now with this new scheme.
"It's fairly new, and I know they continue to work on things and install things daily [in voluntary workouts]. I know they just got their new secondary coach [Jaime Hill], so like our offense last year were we had three new offensive coaches coming in, I think the best thing about this defense is there is a lot of excitement about the new schemes they'll be running and the new coach that's coming in."
However as Beck pointed out, it takes more than just excitement, talent and experience to be an effective unit.
"You have to believe in your scheme," said Beck. "That's one of the biggest things. Coaches can put something together but if the people running it don't believe in it, it's not going to be successful no matter what you do. I think right now with all the excitement that is surrounding the defense with all this new stuff, it's just going to breed confidence in the new schemes that they have. Hopefully it's beneficial because I think we have the talent defensively, and offensively we will be able to improve upon what we accomplished last year."
Many BYU fans felt that Coach Mendenhall was "married" to the 3-3-5 defense he helped to create while a defensive coordinator at New Mexico. Beck, on the other hand, is the first to affirm that Coach Mendenhall will make any change necessary if it simply meant winning.
"I know there are some people who might say, ‘Oh yeah, Coach Mendenhall will only stick to the 3-3-5,'" said Beck, "but Coach Mendenhall wants to win more than anything, and he understands that he has talent at the linebacker's position as well as other positions. He feels like that by using this scheme it would be more beneficial by using the talent that he has. This new defense is going to play to our strengths."
With the elimination of the Cougarback position and the addition of a linebacker, there will be an intense competition for the two remaining safety spots. Cougarbacks Dustin Gabriel and David Tafuna will now be a part of that competitive mix.
"I think you've got these experienced guys who've been out on the field," said Beck. "Last year was Dustin's [Gabriel] first year and David's [Tafuna] first year. These were young guys and one year does make a big difference in confidence, experience and every aspect of the game.
"I've been impressed with some of the secondary guys this year as well," said Beck. "I've seen a big improvement from some of the guys. Guys like Cole Miyahira who I think half way through the season started playing corner back. This year they have him at the free safety position, and so far, in what we've been doing out there, I've been very impressed with Cole in his ability. He's come a long way as a defensive guy and in his pass coverage. We've got new DB's coming in like Tico Pringle who I think can help us out. I think it's going to be a work in progress and it's not going to end at spring camp. It's going to be a continual process where we work in all aspects of our team: defense, offense and special teams. All three phases need to be worked on throughout the year all the way to August."
Besides the defensive players, BYU's offensive unit is also excited to see how the new defensive schemes will perform as spring practice heats up in two days.
"As a whole, the offense is excited to see what the new defense can do," Beck said. "That's one of the best things that Coach Mendenhall has done since his time as head coach is not creating two separate teams. Sure we're an offense and a defense but we are one team, and we as an offense are seeing the changes they're making and the new scheme they're brining in, and I think the offense is excited to see what the defense can do now. We got a new offense last year that benefited and was good to us. We were able to make plays, win games and put up some points and do everything that we wanted to do.
"Now it's kind of the defense's turn. They're bringing in a new scheme, a new coach and I think the offense is excited and we're saying, ‘Hey, let's see what the defense is going to do.' We're expecting the defense to do some great things and if you can have an offense do some great things with a defense that can do some great things then this is when you can look forward to it being a magical year."