"For me as a defensive lineman, one thing that I noticed was I had time to really put pressure on the quarterback," said Vic So'oto. "I think that's because our coverage has gotten a lot better. Brandon Bradley has done a great job and Andrew Rich has done a great job of helping the younger guys get accustomed to chaos. I've seen our secondary grow leaps and bounds on every level.
"We had guys when they first came here [that] didn't know how to put on their pads, but now they're out there helping us get coverage sacks. As a d-lineman, it's a great thing to see our secondary coming around the way it is, going from a bend-but-don't-break secondary to a break-your-neck secondary. So that's one area I think spring really helped our defense grow, was the secondary at every level."
"Well, I appreciate the complement by Vic, but we all complement each other," said senior corner Brian Logan. "We all work together, and this is something Coach Mendenhall talks about all the time. If one guy is not doing their job, then it makes it harder for someone else to do their job. So Vic's words are a good compliment, but honestly he makes our job a lot easier too. The way it works is if we're making it easier on them, then they're making it easier on us. It goes both ways."
The solidification of the strong safety position is still up in the air, but Logan gave a possible reason why the defensive linemen might have more time to do their jobs.
"There are many different variables, but one reason why is because I feel we as a secondary have grown closer together over spring camp," said Logan. "I think that is one reason why we as a group from top to bottom have improved overall. I think because of that, we are helping each other more and communicating with each other more and that has really built the secondary up overall.
"The one area where I feel we've improved overall is our depth in comparison to last year. Last year, we were in a position where if one guy got hurt it could screw up everything. I think with the younger guys, they're more in the film room and asking questions and allowing some of the older guys on the team to really work with them. With that being the case, we've seen some of the younger guys come out and make plays, so now if someone gets hurt I feel some of the younger guys can come and fit right in better than last year. To me, that's where I feel the biggest difference is in this defense this year than last year."
Mike linebacker is another key position that needs to be solidified. Sophomore linebacker Brandon Ogletree gave his thoughts on the status of the linebacker group as a whole.
"The one area where I feel we made improvements was at the linebacker position," said Ogletree. "I feel like I improved personally and know that there is still a lot of work to do, but if I were to give one area where we improved on the defense, it was the linebackers. I feel like we've been able to show the coaches that we have some talent there and that we can be trusted. At first in spring camp, things were a little shaky but we did a good job of using our time to quickly show we could execute and be tough in the middle.
"I feel like we're getting there, and of course we're not quite ready yet because we need more experience and there are things you can only improve on with experience. As far as being hungry, aggressive, being able to run and hit and wanting to play, that's definitely there and something we can all do. We just now need to take that and continue working on those things we gained over spring and carry it over into summer and fall."
When senior running back Harvey Unga was asked what the most notable improvement over spring was, he pointed to the high level of success by the younger players.
"In my opinion, if I were a coach looking over what was done over spring camp I would be very pleased," said Unga. "A lot of the younger guys really stepped up. This spring definitely was productive despite the fact this was a huge learning process for all the young guys on the team. I'm just so proud of all of them and I look forward to fall camp and next season. A lot of people have their doubts and their opinions of us being such a young team, but there's no doubt in my mind that these guys are going to come out and compete and be ready for the fall."
Like Unga, So'oto had praise for a number of the younger players.
"Spring camp was really good and it gave us an idea of what we have on this team," said So'oto. "[Riley] Nelson played well, Jake [Heaps] played well, a lot of our younger receivers like Cody [Hoffman] played much better in spring. As far as running backs go, I think Josh Quezada is probably one of the best guys coming out of spring. He's done really well, and some of our young guys on the o-line have done really well. They've been able to clean some things up and are a good group of guys."
For redshirt freshman wide receiver Cody Hoffman, the biggest eye-opener over spring camp was how well the younger guys were able to absorb all the material given to them by the coaches.
"I feel the one area where I think we improved was the offense being able to learn and execute as many plays as we did," said Hoffman. "That was one area where I feel we as an offense really did well over spring, and I think that's going to set us up nicely for fall camp and next year. Plays that we learned from day one to the last day of spring camp I feel we were able to learn and execute where guys weren't making as many mistakes, and that's probably why we were able to do so much because guys weren't making mistakes. We just have to know go into the summer and not forget all that stuff we learned."
For junior offensive tackle Matt Reynolds, it was a different characteristic of the younger players that stood out.
"You can feel the difference in the way many of these guys are playing," said Reynolds. "The confidence level is one thing I've noticed over spring despite the fact there has been more youth on this team. Sure, we'll have to deal with some things that might come along with that youth, but for the most part the confidence level of these guys is impressive. It was something that I noticed because confidence plays such a big part in being able to perform at a high level."
Junior tailback Brian Kariya agreed with his teammates' evaluation of the performance by the Cougar young guns.
"Looking over all the work we did over spring, we made great strides," Kariya said. "I really think that was something that was pretty impressive given how many new players there are on the team. The amount of work we were able to accomplish, and not only that but be successful with all that was given, is the one thing that really stood out to me over spring camp. What's great about that is it's going to carry over into summer. Guys are going to step up and take leadership roles and make sure our practices keep going so that the progress we made in spring is improved upon going into fall."
"Offensively, we still have a lot of things to work on and have our pros and cons," said Unga. "That's something that goes on both sides of the ball. I do think that spring ball has been very balanced and that led to a lot of guys being able to step up offensively and defensively to bring the spotlight on them. The one thing I feel spring camp showed was what kind of talent we have in key spots, and I think that talent level has increased. I think that is one thing we gained in spring, knowing that we are a young team but a talented team. I'm very pleased and there is no doubt in my mind that these guys are going to come out with a little chip on their shoulders going into the next season."
The Cougar offensive line returns four starters from last year, but the team nevertheless tried out different lineups and worked out players at different positions during the spring.
"I feel in regards to the offensive line, the area where we've improved on over spring is the level of familiarity and cohesion between us," Reynolds said. "I really feel we're playing really well together and the group feels really comfortable with each other regardless of who plays what position. I think that might be the biggest area where we've improved upon, that we can all play at a high level regardless of who is on the field and at different positions. Usually an offensive line only has around five or six guys that you can put on the field where everyone involved feels comfortable playing together, but with us we feel we have a lot of guys that can play different positions and everyone feels comfortable with that person and where he's playing."
Terence Brown played center during the final day of spring camp, allowing Braden Hansen to move back to the guard position he earned various freshman All-American honors at last year. The center and quarterback exchange had some hiccups over the duration of spring camp, but not a single bad snap occurred last Saturday.
"That's one key area were we've been really working hard on and focusing on," said Reynolds. "It's such an important position that it kind of became a focal point. Terence really showed how far the center position had come since the beginning of spring, as well as our other centers. I don't remember there being a single bad exchange, which is really good, really good."