There were times during fall camp that BYU junior linebacker Manoa Pikula said he couldn't even watch practice.

"I thought I could watch practice but it ticked me off," Pikula said. "I couldn't even watch because the competitive side of me can't stand seeing someone playing my spot. It was really hard."

After missing the first half of camp as he waited for his grades to come in, Pikula came back and earned his starting position at Buck linebacker again, according to the initial Cougar depth chart.

It's probably something the junior appreciates more because of the delay he had to endure.

"I couldn't report to fall camp," Pikula said. "I couldn't do any of the lifts, couldn't eat with the team. I felt like an outcast. I've been part of this team for three years and this is the first time I felt like that. I just hated that feeling."

He said as soon as the grades were posted, he couldn't wait to get back on the field.

"The first day we start out practice at a jog tempo but that was my first time back and I was juiced," Pikula said. "I was running everywhere. People had to remind me that it wasn't that serious. I had to pump the brakes."

Another player who missed much of camp but is also listed as a starter is junior linebacker Bronson Kaufusi, who was held out with a hamstring injury. Kaufusi said having Pikula back is a big boost to the entire defense.

"He's a guy with experience and you can't take that away," Kaufusi said. "That's something every player needs. With a guy who has been in games, you know they've seen more. It's nice having him back there."

Kaufusi said that he and Pikula had similar approaches, even though the situations were slightly different.

"We weren't out there," Kaufusi said. "Helping the team in any way we could was something we both tried to do. To be able to come back now and perform at a high level, I feel like we got ourselves ready so that when we did come back, we were ready to go."

Pikula will need to play a big role for BYU as the Cougars need guys to step into the big shoes in the middle of the defense left vacant by departing seniors.

He said he would be willing to play Mike or Buck -- or anywhere else BYU needs him to play.

"I don't have a preference," Pikula said. "I'll play wherever the team needs me. I'm naturally a Buck but in the spring I learned some Mike. I doubt they need me outside but if they did, I'd go outside. I don't care."

He is also needed as a leader and mentor to a lot of the younger linebackers, guys who have had a lot to pick up.

"They were throwing a lot at the new guys," Pikula said. "New blitzes, new coverages. We have a lot of new inside linebackers and for them it's a whole different language. With the experience, all of that was like a review test for me."

Cougar inside linebackers coach Paul Tidwell said he likes the development from the unit as they've gone through camp.

"It's exciting to see progression," Tidwell said. "We've got some good inside backers. They just have to be able to execute and learn their plays."

Now the key for Pikula and all of the linebackers is translating the experience, knowledge and athleticism to making plays on the field for the BYU defense.

"You've got to be great tacklers," Tidwell said. "You can be really athletic and run around but when you get to the play, you've got to be able to finish it."

Daily Herald sports editor ​Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

Jared is the Sports Editor and BYU football reporter for the Daily Herald.