So far this spring, the two inside linebacker positions have been filled primarily with Shawn Doman and Matt Bauman working with the first team and giving way to Matt Ah You and Terrance Hooks, who are seeing most of the reps with the second team.
"It's a battle and every day we're working hard to get better," said Doman. "I'm there with the ones right now with Matt [Bauman], but we have really good guys in Terrance , Matt Ah You and some others. We're all battling and we push each other, which is a good thing."
The inside linebacker positions are a couple of positions that demand a lot. The coaches are looking for players who can both drop back into coverage effectively and stuff the run. The players need to have good lateral movement and good strength to take on blocks in order to play the position effectively.
"I feel that both Shawn Doman and Matt Bauman were very good in coverage last year," said Tidwell. "Now they're working hard to get stronger in defending the run. Both players had really good offseasons and I'm happy with how both showed up for practices."
The focus for Bauman and Doman this offseason has been to add strength in order to defend the run better, while maintaining their speed in defending the pass and in moving well laterally from sideline to sideline.
"I've always struggled to keep my weight up," said Doman. "I have a really fast metabolism, but I'm at 225 pounds right now and hopefully I can stay at that weight throughout the season. I feel a lot stronger and I feel that I'll be a lot better against the run [while] being at that weight."
Doman has also struggled through chronic back problems, which have worked to limit his amount of reps in each of his seasons while at BYU. So how is Doman's back feeling three days into spring practices?
"I feel great," said Doman. "I feel as good as I ever have since I started playing here. Hopefully I'll continue to feel good so I can help out the team more."
Tidwell is well aware of what Doman brings to the team and is monitoring his progress and the situation with his back. So far Doman hasn't experienced any ill effects.
"Shawn is very important to this defense with what he can do," said Tidwell. "He's a guy I have a lot of confidence in, and if he remains healthy I feel that he can be really good."
Looking for Leaders and Execution
Now that the talent is in place, as well as some good experience, Tidwell is looking for leaders among the players competing at the inside linebacker position to step up.
"Leadership is going to be a big factor for all of them who are competing for the positions," said Tidwell. "There's no Cameron Jensen or Kelly Poppinga in front of them now, so they're in the driving seat now. So coming out of spring we want them to realize that they're the leaders now. They're the ones who need to set the tone."
What Tidwell wants to see as well is increased position mastery from his inside linebackers. By focusing on position mastery while looking for who will step up to take a leadership role, Tidwell would like to leave practice with a set two-deep roster at the position heading into the fall.
"All four or our top guys have good experience here," said Tidwell. "Shawn Doman and Terrance Hooks now have three years in the system, while Matt Bauman saw some good experience last year and played before his mission. Matt Ah You as well saw some good time before his mission, so I really like our experience. Now I'm just looking to see who the leaders are. I'm looking for guys to take the lead."
Matt Ah You is back from his mission and competing hard, and is seeing most of his reps with the second team. Tidwell and Ah You's fellow inside linebackers say Ah You has been doing well as he looks to shake off the rust from his mission.
"Matty Ah You lost a lot of weight on his mission and has kept it off so far, which is a good thing with how we play our inside guys now," noted Tidwell. "He's working hard and he's catching up every day with the other guys, I feel. He's working hard and I'm liking what I've seen from him so far."
"I like Matt a lot," added Doman. "He's going to help us a lot with depth and he's pushing us. I feel that we're really strong inside with playmakers."
Van Sweden in and Clawson out
Thursday's practice saw Dan Van Sweden join the inside linebackers, while Coleby Clawson was moved outside. Tidwell feels that Van Sweden can really help them inside and is excited for his prospects.
"Dan Van Sweden is a solid player who has done a great job for us on special teams in the past," said Tidwell. "I'm excited to see how he develops as spring goes on because I feel he can really help us."
-The first-team offense was humming in its first and only set during 11-on-11 drills. The standard for the first week of spring practice usually calls for very ugly offensive production, as the defense is usually far ahead of the offense at this time of the year.
-Max Hall and company put that standard to bed Thursday, as Hall completed all six of his passes on his only set, hitting Andrew George for 24 yards, Austin Collie for 9 yards and then 3 yards, and then Reed White in the end zone from three yards out.
-Defensive standouts during Thursday's practice included an interception by Matt Ah You on a pass that was tipped by Terrance Hooks, and then another interception by Shawn Doman in coverage. Jan Jorgensen knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage, while Vic So'oto recorded a sack. Dan Van Sweden also knocked down a pass attempted across the middle during 11-on-11 drills.