Spring Practice Report: Day Five

With 10 returning starters in tow, Max Hall and company pose a formidable challenge for anyone. Indeed, the offense is humming this spring while the defense is trying to catch up, which should help them in the long run. Slowly but surely the Cougar defense is making strides as it works to match the level of execution of the offensive unit.

"Man, the offense we have here is good, real good," noted linebacker Terrance Hooks. "With all the guys they have coming back they're really doing well and we're working hard every day to match what they do. We're going to be that much better going up against them every day."

Indeed, when the 1s on offense are on the field, it invariably leads to a touchdown on just about every occasion. With 10 returning starters, that is the sort of execution most would expect from the Cougar offense this spring.

"Assignment-wise the offense is much farther ahead than the defense at this point, which is to be expected with the amount of returning starters," said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "The format has been conducive to teaching right now. It's conducive to precision on offense and teaching on defense, and we'll use the format we're using throughout the spring."

A lot of the teaching on defense is being focused at the linebacker position, where David Nixon returns as the only starter from a year ago. The defense is relatively young, but with some players with some good experience at the position, Nixon feels they'll be okay.

"We're doing well," said Nixon. "I have a lot of confidence in the guys I'm playing with at linebacker. It's a position that requires a lot of reads, especially for the inside guys, but so far they're coming along great. Guys like Shawn Doman, Matt Bauman, Terrance Hooks and Matt Ah You, they're all doing well and progressing."

Hooking up

One of the defensive standouts so far this spring has been inside linebacker Terrance Hooks. During the last three practices, Hooks has accounted for three pass knockdowns in coverage, two of which led to interceptions by safety Andrew Rich and linebacker Matt Ah You, respectively. During Monday's practice, Hooks accounted for an interception of his own.

"Yeah, I'm happy with how I've been progressing and hopefully you'll see me making plays every time I'm out there," said Hooks. "That's what we try to do, to make plays whenever and wherever we can. We're all working hard and fortunately I've gotten my hands on some passes."

Defending the pass is something that is stressed to the Cougar inside linebackers, as they're required to drop back in zone coverages a lot in defensive coordinator Jaime Hill's coverage system.

"You have to defend the pass well in this system and you have to be good in space, make right reads fast and then get to your assignment," said Hooks. "It's something I've struggled with, but something I've really worked hard on in the offseason, and so far it's paying off."

Hooks quickly bulked up to 240 pounds after his first redshirt season at BYU, thus developing into a good run-stopper that could fill the gaps aggressively while taking on blockers.

"I was too skinny coming out of high school," said Hooks. "I immediately learned that I couldn't survive playing inside linebacker weighing only 215 or so, so I got bigger. I really hit the weights, got a lot of strength, and became good against the run."

With his increased strength and mass, Hooks sacrificed a lot of his ability to cover in space as well as his overall lateral movement. Regaining better movement, leading to better coverage and pursuit in space, was the focus for Hooks in the offseason.

"Coaches told me that they were happy with how I was doing against the run, but that I really needed to work on defending the pass," said Hooks. "So the first thing I did was cut down on my size a bit, which has really helped me. I'm around 230-235 now and I'm feeling good. I'm making plays now that I had trouble making last year, so it's all good so far."

Indeed, Hooks' teammates have seemed to notice his improved play.

"Terrance is doing great," noted Nixon. "He's making some good plays for us and I'm confident it will continue. The inside linebackers in this system have to make a lot of coverage reads, and so far Hooks is making the right reads and making plays."

Battling with Bauman

Hooks is currently rotating with Matt Bauman at inside linebacker and occasionally has seen reps with Shawn Doman with the first-team defense. The battle for the inside linebacker position is shaping up to be a competitive one, as both Hooks and Bauman have been playing well so far.

"It's a good battle, a friendly battle," said Hooks. "We sort of battled on special teams last year, seeing who made the most plays, and Matt got over on me recovering that fumble in the bowl game, but hey, I'm happy he got that fumble. It's a good battle and we really push each other."

While Bauman maybe had the edge in pass coverage last season, Hooks is looking to close that gap with how he covers the intermediate routes on defense. Meanwhile, Bauman has bulked up in the offseason to try and match what Hooks brings to the team in regards to run support.

"We're a good mix," said Hooks. "I want the starting spot for sure and I know that he does too. We'll both play and help the team wherever we can, which is what we both want more than anything."

Amping the Attitude

One of the bigger developments this spring has been the emergence of converted tight end Vic So'oto to strong side linebacker. It's a switch that the entire defense is very excited about, as So'oto has brought with him a level of intensity that his teammates are trying to match.

"Vic is such a great competitor," said Hooks. "His enthusiasm and how hard he goes is really helping us on defense. He's brought with him a lot of attitude and intensity and he's making plays. He's definitely going to help us this year."

Practice Notes

-Mendenhall plans to have the team's first scrimmage a week from Friday as the team eases into full-padded and full-contact practices.

-The depth chart at quarterback currently lists Max Hall with the 1s, Brendan Gaskins with the 2s, Kurt McEuen with the 3s and Stephen Covey with the 4s. Mendenhall mentioned that this spring will be used primarily for Gaskins' development as far as quarterback work goes.

-A host of former players, soon-to-be players and recruits were in attendance Monday at practice. Kelly Poppinga, Reno Mahe, Jonny Harline, Iona Pritchard, Garrett Nicholson, Justin Sorensen, Bronson Kaufusi, Jefferson Court, Craig Bills and Kevan Bills, among others, watched practice.

-Max Hall went 9-of-13 in 11-on-11 drills for 60 yards and a touchdown. Hall's touchdown came courtesy of a 7-yard pass to receiver Michael Reed. Brendan Gaskins went 3-for-5 for 7 yards and an interception.

-Terrance Hooks accounted for an interception while knocking down a pass intended for Austin Collie across the middle. Other highlights included Andrew George making a one-handed catch along the sideline, Tyler Kozlowski making a diving catch, and Scott Johnson knocking down a pass intended for Michael Reed.

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