Thursday's practice session looked more like football than any practice so far, as the team went through contact drills for the first time this spring. The team went through its "Oklahoma drill" and concluded with a spirited light-contact 11-on-11 drill, which saw the defense jumping around and showing some good play.
"The emotion was really good," noted inside linebacker coach Paul Tidwell about his defense during Thursday's practice. "The energy was high and you could tell that they really enjoyed being out here and that is how it should be."
Both Tidwell and Bauman said that the key now is to keep that emotion and energy throughout spring practice, which isn't an always easy task. Regardless, keeping the energy level high is something that has to be inherent at the inside linebacker position in BYU's 3-4 system.
"I look for my guys to lead the way and sort of set the tone out there," said Tidwell regarding the inside linebackers. "They need to be leaders and a good physical presence out there, always playing downhill and leading with energy. That's the goal for our group to be sure."
Rife with Experience
While other position groups are having to sift through the roster in order to fill in gaps left from departed players, that is certainly not the case with the inside linebacker position. The two-deep remains intact from last season, which is proving to be - and should continue to prove to be - a huge advantage.
"We're miles ahead of where we were as a position group from this time last spring and last fall for sure," noted Bauman. "It isn't really close to be honest with you. We know what to do better and when to do it. I feel that we've come out strong as a position group and now we just need to make sure we keep improving every day."
"We have a two-deep full of seniors and that is really nice to have," said Tidwell. "They're going to push each other and compete, and we have some young guys coming up behind him. I think we have the potential to be a very good unit. The senior leadership with what we have is obviously a huge advantage."
With experience and the subsequent amount of reps that come with comes speed. The amount of time each player takes to recognize what an opposing offense is doing and where to go to best defend what they're doing obviously becomes accelerated with experience.
"We're much more organized with what we do out there," said Bauman. "We recognize what is happening and what needs to happen so much faster. When you recognize what is going on faster you're sharper. You're quicker to your spot and you then are able to be more aggressive, which is something we're really working on this spring."
Hooks Back to Form
So far this spring Terrance Hooks has been the guy playing the Buck linebacker position alongside Mike linebacker Matt Bauman with the first unit. Following a torn patella tendon injury which severely limited him a season ago, Hooks is back to form and playing very well this spring.
"He's playing fast and he's playing aggressive," noted Tidwell about Hooks so far this spring. "He obviously has stuff to work on like all of them do, but he's flying around like he should and I feel like he's back to 100 percent."
Hooks being back to form benefits the Buck linebacker position to be sure, but it's the entire defense and his cohorts at linebacker that he's really benefiting by his aggressive and vocal play on the practice field.
"T-Hook is great," said Bauman about Hooks. "He's always excited and energetic and vocal. He really helps us being out there with being physical and all that. I love playing with T-Hook."
Tidwell has two more scholarship players available to him at inside linebacker this spring in Brandon Ogletree and junior college transfer Jordan Atkinson. While Ogletree will miss the rest of spring practice with a fractured finger, Atkinson is learning the position and catching notice from Tidwell.
"Jordan Atkinson is coming along well," said Tidwell. "The hardest thing for new guys coming in is learning the passing game. Learning the reads and knowing where to go isn't an easy thing to learn, but Jordan is coming along well. He's a big, physical guy who likes to play downhill, which will benefit us as he learns the coverages and the passing keys better."
All in all, Tidwell is quite optimistic about his group of linebackers.
"Overall I just really want our group to become an intimidating and physical group," said Tidwell about his inside linebackers. "We have good experience and we're doing almost everything better as a group. I'm excited about this group and they just need to keep up that intensity and be physical and play fast and we'll be fine."
-Kelly Poppinga and Dallas Reynolds attended Thursday's practice along with Richard Wilson, Bronson Kaufusi and Toloa'i Ho Ching.
-Thursday also saw more mixing and matching with the offensive line, as Jesse Taufi saw reps with the ones primarily at the right guard position.