Scrimmage Report: Cougar Defense Gives Battle

The Cougar defense mixed a little of the old "Bend but don't break" approach with the new "Don't tread on me" mentality during this morning's scrimmage. The result was an encouraging defensive performance as BYU reaches the halfway point in fall camp. talks with players from both sides of the ball about how the defense is developing during fall camp.

Although the offense killed several drives themselves, the defense did get the better of them on a number of occasions during the scrimmage this morning. Despite the minor offensive mistakes that hindered some of their scrimmage progress, BYU tight end Jonny Harline gives the defense some credit for taking advantage of their mistakes.

"The defense played well," Harline said. "Even though there are a few guys out there that know what we are doing, which is no excuse, the defense did some good things out there."

BYU outside linebacker Bryan Kehl agrees with Harline's defensive assessments. Although there is room for improvement of both sides of the ball, Kehl poined out that things tend to come together before the season opener.

"I thought the defense had a good day," Kehl said. "It's kind of interesting; I noticed my first year playing Division I football back in 2002 and I saw it last year and I expect to see it this year, you come out and have a scrimmage, and guys who've played will know this, things are not as crisp and there aren't as many big plays and things don't look quite like a college football game. It's just amazing how things come together at the end, and by September 2nd, we'll be running on all cylinders and just rolling. We had a lot of mental mistakes today with execution, but I think that's just part of the situation right now in fall camp. Guys are banged up and tired, but come September 2nd we're going to be rolling and I have no doubt about that.

"I have no problem in believing that the defense will continue to improve and step it up. Defensively, I'm confident in our defensive line. I think the coaches will rotate them a lot because not one person has really stood out and separated himself. Quite a few guys have been playing well which is a good thing especially with the type of defense we run where it's fast paced and pursuit to the ball is constant. The rotation will really help us out."

Not since Bronco Mendenhall came to BYU as the defensive coordinator in 2003 have the Cougars had such a deep rotation on the defensive line. Both returning players and newcomers are playing well. JC transfer Mosese Foketi knows that, although he and his D-line teammates are looking good, they are not where the can or need to be.

"On the defensive side of the ball, what we really need to polish up on is our play calling and technique," said Foketi. "A lot of us younger guys still don't know our assignments as well as the veteran guys, and that is one reason why Steve Kaufusi puts some of us newer guys, like myself, with some of the veteran guys, so we can get down which gaps to shoot and to know our assignments better. Nothing is set in stone right now. We have a lot of talent, but now we need to get down our technique and polish it up to be more consistent."

The starting positions for the first string defense are still wide open. The broad and varied rotation not only allows newcomers to learn from veterans, it also give the young players a chance to develop confidence as they succeed with their experienced teammates.

"It's good that a lot of the younger players are getting some reps on the defensive line," said true freshman defensive end Matangi Tonga. "The coaches are doing a good job in letting us new guys get some reps against the big timers. Last year I was watching some of my idols like Jake Kuresa play, so it's a dream come true to be able to play against him and the other guys I watched. I think it's also a dream come true for some of the other young guys to have a chance to play against the big timers as well.

"It's really working out good because when we're in there with the veterans, they tell us what to and how to run the assignment. I think one of the reasons why we are all playing really good is because we're all gaining confidence, and having the veterans tell us what to do on the field is one reason why we've been able to produce what we've done today."

With confidence comes a higher level of play. The talented younger D-line group is beginning to push the older more experience linemen for playing time. The depth at D-line has really challenged the offense.

"We all feel really good about ourselves right now," Tonga said. "The D-line is still learning from the O-line but hopefully we'll get those little things down before September 2nd. It's basically just film room and study. Right now our D-line doesn't have any set starters so everyone is fighting and it will continue being a fight until Arizona comes. The next two weeks are going to be crucial for the new guys to try and step it up. We have three really strong levels of linemen on the depth chart and even beyond that."

Quarterback John Beck sees the difference scrimmaging against this year's defense in comparison to what he faced in practice last fall.

"I think they're doing really well," said Beck. "I mean, we've been able to put together some drives here and there, but they've been able to put us in third and long, and some of that is due to the defense because they're doing a great job out there."

Beck sees the difference in the quality of the defense in both personnel and execution. Having faced both the 3-3-5 scheme and the new 3-4 manned by much of the same personnel, Beck sees improvement.

"With out a doubt, the defensive secondary has come further along this year than last year," said Beck. "This is even more impressive with them playing within a first year defense. I know what it is like playing within a first year offense and it's just a huge advantage for them to be able to understand it in the spring and then just be able to compete in the fall. They have a lot more packages in and I don't think we'll have to worry about anyone throwing six touchdowns on us anymore. I really expect our defense to go out there and play great, and when they step out onto the field to play against Arizona I think their level of play will be raised up even more.

"At first during spring camp, we were scoring a lot on them. However as of late, that hasn't been the case. Some of that may be our level of execution, but some of that is directly related to the level of play of the defense. When I put the ball up in the air to allow the receivers to come down with it and the cornerbacks are right there, and I think those guys back there are doing a better job and are improving. Much of it also comes from Coach Hill who is working extremely hard. He's always out there and always in their ear, and I think having someone like that with as much defensive experience as he has really has helped them develop."

Kehl, who recorded a sack on Beck during today's scrimmage, agrees with his quarterback's secondary assessments.

"A couple of guys have stepped it up and have been making some plays that have impressed me," said Kehl. "Tico Pringle made a couple of good pass break ups today, and we haven't seen that where a couple of DBs will come up and lay some hat. Ben Criddle is another one who is tearing it up. He'a a walk-on who wants to earn himself a scholarship, and he's been bringing it on the field."

Total Blue Sports Top Stories