Defensive Speed On The Rise

The old saying that speed kills held true for BYU last year, and Coach Mendenhall wants to make sure his team has plenty of it this season. The overall improvement of the defensive speed was a focus of the team over the summer as those who stayed in Provo voluntarily participated in summer workouts with Coach Omer and a track coach.

It was plain to see, and for Cougar fans, quite disturbing as well: teams like TCU and Utah getting to the point of attack quicker than their Cougar counterparts. In the end it was speed that killed the Cougars' fight to repeat as Mountain West Conference champions, and it was speed that became the new buzzword.

"Over the summer we worked with a track guy who is kind of a speed coach or track coach," said linebacker Matt Bauman. "We did a number of form running-type drills and worked on our flexibility and core strength that track guys do to help them with their speed. We worked really hard on those things as well as our offseason lifting. Our offseason workouts were kind of tailored more towards the development of our speed, so it was a little bit different than before."

Even BYU quarterback Max Hall sees the difference in how quickly the defense responds to his offense, and has to make sure his reads are quick and his passes are sharper. For this seasoned Cougar quarterback, the extra challenge and competition is a welcomed one.

"It's nice to see the defense flying around out there," said Hall. "They are a lot quicker in the secondary, for sure. I also think our linebackers - they're the same linebackers as before, but I think they worked really hard in the offseason and they look good. They're starting to cover the middle routes and tight end routes better because they can get to the spot better, so I've got to be very careful and quicker with my reads and my decisions or they'll knock it down every time."

Bauman echoed Hall's defensive speed comments.

"Yeah, I feel great," said Bauman. "I can tell the difference and I can [see] a lot of the guys out there really flying around. I think the defense is reacting quicker and getting to the point of attack much faster than before. It's really good to see because we have a lot of guys that have experience in this defense. Now we have guys with speed to go along with that experience."

The defensive transformation from slug to fireplug has also increased the excitement of the players as they continue to challenge an already potent Cougar offense.

"One thing that has impressed me this fall camp is the way everyone is flying around out there," said outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton. "Everyone is running around and there is a different attitude out there, and it's not just the defense but the offense also. I think a lot of the guys have worked hard and better developed themselves to be quicker and faster."

"We want to be smart and fast," Bauman said. "I think something that is setting us apart from last year is that increased level of speed and knowledge. Last year we were kind of complacent in what our job was. I feel like this year, especially with the first team and with some of the guys on the second and even some of the guys on third team, is that we have guys that are making the right calls.

"We have safeties back there making the right calls and a defense that is quicker to the ball. I think it's allowing us to have a lot more fun out there. On the offense guys can be showing at different places, but we're all confident in what we're doing and why we're doing the things we do. I think this also allows us to have greater options as a defense, and so we've all been having a lot more fun out there on the field."

"When you're flying around and making plays, it really boosts your confidence," said safety Andrew Rich. "You're having more fun and you can see how guys are having a lot of fun out there. It's an exciting time."

At one time defensive tackle Russell Tialavea weighed more than 300 pounds, but now people would have a hard time telling him apart from 270-pound defensive end Jan Jorgensen. The new and improved Russell Tialavea has caught the eye of senior offensive center R.J. Willing.

"The thing with Russell is he's always been quick," said Willing. "Now he's even quicker and more dangerous, so for me as a center I can't attack him as much and have to sit back because he's so quick. I have to change things up and read off of what he does. His pass moves are lightning-quick."

"He's around 270 pounds right now and might need to put on another 10 pounds before the season starts," said Jorgensen. "He's always been really quick on his pass rush and shooting the gaps, but now he's a little more quicker, but he'll have to put on a little more weight and get himself up to around 275 or 280 pounds and he'll be fine."

The physical transformation towards more speed isn't just limited to the defensive side of the ball. On offensive, a sleeker and trimmer tight end Dennis Pitta joins a trimmer running back Harvey Unga and offensive lineman Terence Brown.

"I think I've tried to become a more all-around player," said Pitta. "That starts with conditioning and in the weight room. I've been able to transform my body a little bit from last season and I'm at a better weight than I was. I've just been working on becoming a more complete player."

Becoming a more complete team starts with more complete players, and one thing is certain: the new transformations are a welcomed site and will help the Cougars' overall team speed this season.

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