It's not easy for me to note just how well the defensive or offensive lines are doing until they start hitting. Now that they've started to do just that, I've subsequently been impressed with the prospects of two defensive linemen that weren't even mentioned as possible contributors as recently as a month and a half ago.
At one of the end positions, Vic So'oto has really begun to assert himself. So'oto has bounced around from position to position since arriving at BYU as a top prospect, but has settled in nicely at the defensive end position.
So'oto has made plays during every practice session this week from what I've seen, upsetting at least one second-team offensive lineman along the way. It's at times all too easy for a defensive end to apparently disappear in a 3-4 system, but that hasn't been the case with So'oto. Look for coaches to use him at end while moving Jan Jorgensen over to nose tackle during third-and-long situations this coming season.
The most pleasant surprise this fall has been the play of Tevita Hola. He's already been mentioned by head coach Bronco Mendenhall as the most improved player on the team, and it's starting to become easy to see why.
Hola is making plays, which isn't always easy to do from the nose tackle position. His benefit to the defense, however, it beyond just being a capable body to rotate in. While Russell Tialavea is still struggling a bit with playing at his new weight and Romney Fuga has slimmed downed since his mission, Hola still brings the necessary beef to the position.
With every practice session it's becoming somewhat apparent that while Tialavea will benefit from his increased mobility, he's suffering from his loss of strength. Fans can subsequently expect more of a rotation at the position than assumed when fall camp began. If practice rotation is any indication, the rotation between the three nose tackles looks to be fairly equal at this point.
Jordan Atkinson is starting to really assert himself at the weak side linebacker position. With every practice session he's making plays. Coach Mendenhall noted earlier that he's now at his natural position and he's apparently thriving because of it. While it was previously assumed that Atkinson would redshirt this year, he now looks to be a strong option for backing up Coleby Clawson.
Another player to keep an eye on is Jameson Frazier. He's a player that has remained steady and has been consistently improving since moving over to the strong side linebacker position this past spring. While he likely won't warrant playing time this year, look for Frazier to compete hard for a starting spot in subsequent years.
While he's been somewhat maligned by fans and media alike in prior years, Matt Bauman has looked outstanding during practice sessions so far. He showed notable improvement throughout last season and it's continued into fall camp. He has shed some weight and looks much more active and aggressive. Look for Bauman to have a very productive year.
Craig Bills has gone back to getting reps with the second-team here recently, but when with the ones he played as if he belonged there. Given the experience and play of both Andrew Rich and Scott Johnson, it would be extremely difficult for any true freshman to beat them out. But, it's hard to imagine Bills not playing some role on the defense this year.
Safety is one of the more difficult positions for true freshmen to learn, but so far in, Bills has looked equal to the task. We'll keep an eye on him and note any developments with him and how coaches plan to use him this coming season. For right now, he remains one of top options for a fifth defensive back in a nickel package.
It's becoming apparent with every practice session that the coaching staff did well in identifying and bringing in good and ready talent at cornerback. Lee Aguirre was the first one to catch my eye and he's maintained very good and steady play throughout camp. Aguirre has a knack for not getting beat. He has very good instincts and knows how to use his frame. While Brandon Bradley has struggled through tendonitis issues, Aguirre provides a lot of security at the boundary corner position.
At field corner it's been all about Brian Logan and his impact recently in practice sessions. Logan has really come on and has made plays during most drills.
During one-on-one drills it's oftentimes ridiculous to note just how badly McKay Jacobson burns whoever goes against him. In one instance Wednesday Jacobson ran his typical great route with a very quick break and appeared to have Logan beat. The quarterback threw the ball right where it needed to be, but Logan caught up to knock the ball away, showing very good makeup speed.
Robbie Buckner did himself no favors by getting hurt. He had a stranglehold on the starting position before getting hurt, but with every day he's out it's starting to look more and more difficult to beat out Brian Logan. Buckner should return here soon and they should battle to the end in a much better competition than we've become used to at the position.
I'll go ahead and state that Riley Stephenson is the most consistent punter I've ever seen over the seven years that I've covered the BYU football program. Stephenson has a knack at kicking the ball high and far with most of his punts. His punts look as if they were released by a passing machine. He knows how to turn the ball over better than any BYU punter I've seen, which aides the flight of the ball tremendously.
It's relatively certain that Jacobson will be returning both punts and kickoffs this year. Look for O'Neill Chambers to join with Jacobson on kick returns, and J.D. Falslev remains a strong possibility at either return responsibilities.