Mendenhall doesn't worry when one side of the ball is too aggressive or spirited in their play, but rather when one side isn't spirited during practice after getting it handed to them the day before. It's something that has to be managed, but this is obviously football, where the nature of the sport calls for some spirited and physical play.
Overall the Cougar head coach was happy with what he saw during Thursday's practice session, but as is always the case, he saw room for improvement.
"It was the first day in pads and there were some jitters," said Mendenhall. "It wasn't quite as clean in terms of offensive execution, but we'll be in full pads tomorrow and we'll basically keep the identical format where we'll tackle in three different segments we have. So that will be fun as well, but overall we've been able to accomplish a lot already with some relatively youthful players in spots, so I'm encouraged at this point."
Mendenhall was quick to note that while they still have a long ways to go, he's very pleased with the progress they've made so far. With the team going in full pads on Friday, he's hoping and in fact counting upon his team to show forth the type of physical and spirited play that he saw on Thursday.
Despite the relative youthfulness of the team, Mendenhall and his staff are making it anything but easy on them. In fact, they've been intent on putting the team in difficult situations. One practice segment saw the offense starting on its own 3-yard-line and being challenged to get a first down, which isn't an easy task at all for any offense going in pads for the first time.
Overall Jake Heaps moved the offense the best on Thursday, going 5-of-6 for 49 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown came with a 13-yard strike to senior running back Harvey Unga in the flat. The drive was greatly aided by a pass to tight end Mike Muehlmann from 17 yards out that put them in position to score.
While Heaps did most of his work against the second- and third-team defensive units, Riley Nelson went up against the first-team defense and struggled. He missed on both of his passes, although he had a great 13-yard run toward the sideline in which he put on some impressive moves.
James Lark went 1-of-2 for 4 yards and an interception. He was picked off by Travis Uale while trying to hit tight end Devin Mahina during a blue zone drill.
Search for Safeties
With the graduation of Scott Johnson and with Andrew Rich being held out of spring practices due to injury, a lot of new faces are manning the safety spots with the first-team and second-team defensive units. There isn't a lot of experience there, but Mendenhall is hopeful that one of the safeties will emerge this spring and take the starting free safety spot.
"There's a pool of players there and I'm not sure who will emerge," said Mendenhall. "Steven Thomas is playing the free safety spot with Landon Jaussi backing him up currently and then at the strong safety spot, the Kat position, Travis Uale and Jray Galea'i are the players there."
The goal this spring according to Mendenhall will be to find at least two of those four that will join with Andrew Rich in filling the depth at both of the safety positions.
"So far I think they're making the calls and they seem to be in position," said Mendenhall regarding what he's seen from the safeties so far. "The safety positions, the free safety position in particular, has to orchestrate what the defense does and make plays. So we haven't found out if they can do that yet, because of our practice structure, [and] if they're capable of making those plays quite yet."
Mendenhall indicated that there will be a possibility of one of the cornerbacks moving over to help out at safety, but the model now is to let the existing pool prove themselves worthy of the spot until any position changes are even considered.
So far this spring none of the new players undergoing their initial practice sessions have helmets with the "Y" sticker on them, nor the blue stripes in the middle. According to Mendenhall, that sticker has to be earned.
"Just after thinking about the program and ways to consistently improve it and ways to really have them value the experience, we've decided that once they've made it through fall camp they'll earn they're stripes and their stickers," explained Mendenhall. "It just seemed more of the right thing to do. I've possibly been rewarding some of our new players too early before they've had a complete rite of passage into the program, and so they'll get them once fall camp finishes."
Happy for Coach Rose
Mendenhall and the rest of the team were as happy as any Cougar fan was to see the basketball team win their first-round tournament matchup against Florida on Thursday. According to Mendenhall, most - if not all - of the team was fully supporting them in their matchup.
He noted that he could hear the team loudly celebrating and cheering the team in the locker room as they prepared for practice, and that the staff members were all glued to the game in their own offices. That included Mendenhall himself, who was able to catch the game during his own individual workout and on through one of his player interviews.
"It was a great reminder of just what athletics can do for the spirit of an institution," he said. "It gives you a cause to rally around, so it was a great day."
Mendenhall has become very close with basketball head coach David Rose and couldn't be happier for him getting the team past the first round for the first time in the school's past eight tries.
"Regardless of their success, there are certain standards that keep being raised as you have more and more success," said Mendenhall about what the basketball team accomplished on Thursday. "To see them break through that one, I was really happy for them. Having won that one, it just changes what the world sees in what they've been able to accomplish this year."
-American Fork recruits Ryker Mathews and Chase Hansen were in attendance, along with former player Aaron Wagner. Cougar signee Bryan Sampson was also in attendance.
-True freshman Kyle Van Noy changed his number to 71 on Thursday and showed well with Uona Kaveinga on at least one play in which they were able to chase Riley Nelson from the pocket and force an incompletion.
-Vic So'oto had several plays where he forced screen passes to the outside to go for negative yardage, as he was able to force them to go wider than designed.
-Joshua Quezada had the best run of the day when he ran up the gut of the defense for 12 yards. Malosi Te'o also showed well, particularly during a 7-yard run which saw him break several tackles.