“It means I feel like Coach Mendenhall can trust me,” said Coach Howell. “I think Coach Mendenhall’s at a different point right now where he wants to concentrate on taking care of the guys, and his relationship with the guys, and making sure everyone of their needs are taken care of, and that we build team camaraderie. He’s just making sure that this team is 100 percent together.”
The added responsibility of defensive play calling was a work in progress and something that was discussed some time ago between Coach Howell and Mendenhall.
“You know for me, and we talked about this a long time ago, I knew that it was coming,” said Howell with a chuckle. “Now we just got to see if it works and I think it will because we’ve been on the same page for quite some time now.”
Now that Coach Howell has the full reins of the defense, he’ll no longer take part in special teams preparation. Rather he’ll use that time to better prepare himself for his play-calling responsibilities.
“Preparation will be just a little bit different than what I had,” said Coach Howell. “I won’t have a role on special teams at all, and I’ll use that time to get ready and make sure the game plan is all ready to roll, so it’s just a little bit different in that way but as far as right now no.”
When did Coach Howell begin breaking down Connecticut film in preparation for the season opener?
“A long time ago,” Howell said with a laugh. “Right after spring ball.”
Taking a look at some of the early standouts as fall camp gets underway; Coach Howell shared his thoughts on a few players that caught his eye. On the defensive line, two have made good impressions early.
“Yeah, I thought Remington [Peck] looked pretty good and Travis [Tuiloma] looked pretty good but it’s hard to tell until you go look at the video,” said Coach Howell. “Those guys are leading and I like that. There’s good leadership and I like that.”
After coming back from his mission from Samoa at around 260 pounds, which was down from around 340 pounds prior to his mission, Tuiloma is back in the middle at the nose tackle position where he is doing a good job of filling those A-gaps.
“He’s a big guy that can play the A-gaps,” Coach Howell said with a smile. “That’s what we need. We need him to take up both A-gaps and keep guys off the linebackers.”
In the secondary Robertson Daniel and Craig Bills have really stood out in pass coverage. Jordan Johnson is trying to get himself back to pre-injury status and had tough opening day of camp covering the tall and speedy receivers BYU has, including Nick Kurtz and Mitch Mathews. Trent Trammell is also is the same boat as the two try and regain the trust of their knees in open coverage.
“I really would have liked to see us play harder,” said Coach Howell. “I think it was a combination of us not knowing our assignments and probably a little long practice and being leg weary. I thought there were some individual standouts that looked good. I thought Craig [Bills] and Rob [Daniel] looked awesome, Dallin Leavitt looked comfortable, Sky PoVey looked great, and Kai Nacua looked really good. I thought those guys looked really good.”
The defensive backfield is deeper than it’s been in many years. The return of Jordan Johnson and Trent Trammell ensure that the competition level will remain as long as they continue to trust in their surgically repaired knees and work out the psychological side of the game. As far as the safety positions go nothing has been solidified and that even goes for senior veteran Craig Bills. Many feel is a lock to start at KAT, or strong, safety. Coach Howell doesn’t know who will be his strong safety at this point and Bills isn’t a shoo-in at this time.
“No,” Coach Howell said quickly. “And like I said when someone asked it before I’m going to play the two best safeties. I don’t know the two best combinations and who’s where. Craig can play both and so can some other guys, so well just figure it out what works best for us.”
The Walking Wounded
As far as the wounded walking around the practice field, Sam Lee has been working on strength and conditioning with a trainer. Coach Howell expects Lee to be back in full action come September 1st.
“Sam’s back isn’t all the way back yet, so we’re going to take our time and go with it as it goes,” Coach Howell said. “He’ll be cleared for contact on September 1st, so it’s just a progression right now and he has to do his rehab. You know he’s out running and doing all the drills, but he’s not ready to twist and have all that contact stuff yet, so. We’re going to take it slow and see what happens.”
Others like Adam Pulsipher, who suffered a ruptured Achilles during spring camp, was seen jogging around the practice field. Bronson Kaufusi, who suffered a hamstring injury, was also jogging the field and watching the action.
“Bronson had a little tweak in his hammy,” Coach Howell said. “He’s okay and will be back Monday or Tuesday maybe. He’s fine and it’s just a little tweak. He’s just conditioning this week on his own.”
Along with Kaufusi, defensive lineman Jaterrius Gulley is also nurturing a hamstring issue.
“Jaterrius has a hamstring, “Coach Howell said. “He has a hamstring issue right now that he’s working through.”
Mike linebacker Manoa Pikula was also missing in action but his absence was not injury related.
“Manoa is waiting for his class to grant an academic deal to go through,” Coach Howell said. “Manoa should be back on Monday. It’s not an issue.”
Newcomers at Safety
An intriguing prospect at the free safety is converted wide receiver Grant Jones who is not only tall but can run also.
“He’s playing free safety and he’s big and tall. We’ll figure it out,” said Howell. “He’s got a chance and I like that he’s 6-5 and moves pretty good.”
While Jones is a walk-on there is one player that was recruited to the task. A former high school standout at the safety position, Kavika Fonua’s early experiences of fall camp has left him a bit dazed and confused.
“Kavika’s head was swimming but he’ll get it because he’s smart,” Coach Howell said. “It’s a little different drawing it out on a board or showing it on film but he’ll get it.”
Bills Speaks Out
Senior safety Craig Bills talks about the wide receivers he and his Cougar defenders have been facing. He also talks about the secondary and the opening of fall camp. Click the link below to listen.
Craig Bills Audio