For early March, the BYU football team enjoyed relatively mild, pleasant weather when the Cougars took to the practice field for their first day of spring practice Monday afternoon.
Maybe that lessened the shock of returning to the high-intensity sessions led by BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall — but for many, especially the newcomers, it probably didn’t help much.
The veterans understand that feeling well, since they went through it a season ago.
“We know what’s expected (this year) and so we went out and did what we had to do,” Cougar junior running back Jamaal Williams said. “Last year we didn’t know what they really wanted. This first practice was way different from our first practice last year. I’m pretty sure no one liked the fast, and hard and not having any breaks, but this year we’re ready to go.”
Mendenhall said he was pleased with what his team was able to do on its first day back to work.
“I thought our team worked hard today,” he said. “We're certainly starting from a different place offensively than a year ago in terms of how much they know about the new system. We have more depth at defensive line than what we've had in quite some time, and we also look more athletic at corner than we have in a while.”
BYU will work for the next month on laying the foundation for the upcoming 2014 season. Each area of the field and each individual player, however, have different things they are zeroed in on.
The Cougar star running back is looking at getting the basics down first.
“I want to get my breath back,” Williams said. “I can't breathe at all and I'm tired. I'm just ready to go play. I’m grateful to be out here.”
BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said he was pleased to have the personnel available to get a lot of guys involved.
“On the first day of spring ball, we were able to field two whole units,” he said. “We were able to get a lot of work done from the team perspective. Without linemen, we are able to go three groups in skeleton. There are a lot of new guys, a lot of guys getting a feel for the offense and we threw a lot at them today.”
Anae explained that they would have Tuesday to try to get an handle on what was going on, then they were going to get hit again on Wednesday with “another dose.”
“You’re probably going to be interviewing guys who are spinning on offense,” Anae said to the media. “It’s designed that way.”
Cougar junior quarterback Taysom Hill said he’s excited for spring and that there is a lot of optimism throughout the team.
“I think we have a great chance to be really good and improve on what we did last year,” Hill said. “I think as a quarterback you can always get better on your decision-making and your timing, so I would say going into spring ball that those things would be my emphasis.”
He would like to improve his completion percentage and getting down the timing with regards to route concept — but he’s somewhat limited as of right now.
“It’s will be a little unique with not having a lot of our receivers here right now,” he said. “It will be hard to really build a lot of chemistry.”
There’s an adaptation process going on in every unit across the field, since there are new guys or people in new positions. Coaches are also trying to get a grasp of what they have to work with.
“I want to develop a comfortable understanding of where they are physically and mentally,” BYU wide receivers coach Guy Holliday said. “Constant improvement I think is the key so we can go into the summer with some confidence. I think having success at some point this spring is really important so we want to get a grasp of the offense for the guys who haven’t played. With the guys who have played and were here, we want them to step up and try to take a role in the offense.”
Even guys who made big impacts in 2013 like senior cornerback Robertson Daniel are now cross-training to learn other positions. He’s been working at free safety with Craig Bills looking at switching to Kat safety.
“It’s about being able to communicate and let everyone know what they are doing,” Daniel said. “That’s probably the biggest issue right now.”
The senior said he believes unity is something the Cougars need to develop over the next month.
“I think becoming a team, being assignment-sound and learning the playbook are the most important things,” he said.
It will be a transition for the athletes as they get back into the groove of regular practices. There will be moments where it won’t be easy. Williams said he sees the offseason as being a lot easier than spring practice right now.
“I hate spring,” he said. “But it’s fine. I’ll get through it.”
Injury notes: Here’s the list of BYU players who will be out or limited during spring due to injuries:
Senior running back Iona Pritchard (ankle), senior cornerback Jordan Johnson (knee), junior linebacker Teu Kautai (shoulder), senior defensive lineman Kalolo Utu (wrist), sophomore linebacker Matthew Relei (shoulder), junior defensive back Sam Lee (back), senior offensive lineman Brock Stringham (shoulder), senior linebacker Michael Alisa (groin), junior running back Adam Hine (shoulder), sophomore defensive lineman Logan Taele (foot), senior defensive lineman Marques Johnson (blood clot), junior wide receiver Mitch Mathews (shoulder) and senior wide receiver Apo (shoulder).
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.