Spring Practice Report: Day Six

The team practiced indoors for the first time, but not much changed out on the field of play, as Jake Heaps again showed forth an amazing grasp of the offense while leading the team to yet another touchdown. Another aspect of this year's team that is becoming more apparent with every practice is the quality of depth that assistant head coach Lance Reynolds has to work with at running back.

The team practiced just one two-minute drill, with Jake Heaps being on his game as much he has since he first started practicing. In going against the first-team defense, he completed all seven of his pass attempts for 83 yards and a touchdown.

The touchdown came by way of a 7-yard pass to Spencer Hafoka. The big completions during the drive were consecutive 20-yard passes to Marcus Mathews and O'Neill Chambers. The rest of the practice was spent focusing on the running game, and running backs coach Lance Reynolds readily notes the influx of talent on this year's team.

"This is the most talented group I've had to work with during a spring practice session, maybe ever, I think you could say that," said Reynolds. "We have experienced guys. Harvey [Unga] returning was obviously enormous for our team, but I've really liked what I've seen from the young guys as well."

Unga is seeing a lot of work this spring, contrary to what many - including yours truly - predicted prior to the start of the spring practice session. The purpose according to Reynolds is to simply get him into shape where he can effectively carry the ball 20 or more times during the season without wearing down.

"He's dropped his weight down a little and he's in great shape," said Reynolds about Unga. "We just want to manage him and get him to progress where we can get him the ball as much as possible. Although he's already a complete stud, you always have stuff you need to get better and stuff you need to keep working on, so that's the goal with him this spring."

Unga still has two of his two primary backups returning in J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya, and Reynolds is very happy with the progress both of them have made.

"J.J. is having a real nice spring," complimented Reynolds. "He had a great offseason and he had a great year last year too, I thought. So this year I just see his role increasing and him becoming a more active contributor to the team and getting more touches than he did a year ago."

What has helped Di Luigi in getting playing time has been his ability to catch the football, which is something a BYU running back simply must be able to do effectively should they hope to play. In Bryan Kariya, Reynolds has yet another dependable option that can not only run the football, but catch and block effectively.

Beyond the proven talents of Di Luigi and Kariya, two up-and-coming running backs in Malosi Te'o and true freshman Joshua Quezada are also showing very well. However, they still have a ways to go in becoming well-rounded enough in regards to blocking and receiving before they earn playing time.

"Joshua has real nice instincts," said Reynolds. "He understands football and he has a great feel for what is going on out there already. He can also catch the ball very well and he has a real nice future and potential if he continues to work."

"Malosi can just run," said Reynolds about Te'o. "He's quick and he's just so fast, that's what you like about him. He's as athletic of a guy as anyone we have on the team, so he's going to help us doing something, that's for sure. He probably has the best perimeter speed of all of them, but where he and the others fit in, we'll have to figure that out. But it's an exciting group for sure. They have a lot of potential, all of them."

At fullback, it's been Zed Mendenhall who has been getting the majority of the reps lead-blocking and knocking around a lot of heads with his very physical play.

"Zed came back ready to go, and I thought from what I saw before of him before his mission that he could play and he's showing that again this spring," said Reynolds. "He's not just physical, but he's also fluid and athletic and has a real feel on who to pick up in his blocking assignments and to get to those blocking assignments, so I've been real happy with what I've seen from him this spring as well. He's not afraid of anything, he‘s just real aggressive and tough and I really like that about him. He'll knock you out, that's for sure."

The biggest challenge for the new running backs in getting to the point where they can contribute is to become complete backs, which is something Reynolds demands of anyone before they see the field. Running the ball effectively is a given with most of them, but they must also be adept in blocking and receiving.

"You have a guy like Jake Heaps, all he did in high school was throw, so he's been ready," said Reynolds. "But these guys, all they do is pack it in and run. They were the studs, so they never had to block or any of the other stuff. Now they have to learn to do all the other stuff effectively and that's a challenge for a lot of them. But these guys came in with the right attitude and I think they'll all get there."

The challenge for Reynolds doesn't look to be finding capable options to fill his four-deep running back rotation, but rather sorting out through all the options and putting his guys in the best spots to see the best play possible among them.

"We'll figure all of that out in the fall," said Reynolds. "But for right now it's just bringing them up, the new guys, while the veterans refine what they've already shown this spring," said Reynolds. "We have a lot of talent and potential at the position and we'll get even more guys from fall, so yeah, I think we're going to be as strong as we've ever been at running back this year. They're not there yet, but that potential is certainly there."

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