BYU football: First two days of camp featured plenty of surprising developments
Provo • Having practiced Friday and Saturday mornings and attended the UFC Fight Night 92 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday night, the BYU football team took Sunday off, as is its custom, and rested up for what should be a grueling, physical week of practices.
It was a busy, news-filled two days of workouts as the Kalani Sitake era began in Provo. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve learned:
• The Cougars will work on fitness and conditioning less than in previous camps and more on the physical elements: hitting, blocking and tackling. “A big part of the game is the physical part, hitting and tackling,” Sitake said, calling the first two days in helmets and shorts “fake football.”
• Senior linebacker Harvey Langi lined up at defensive end on Saturday and will be asked to learn that position and potentially play it exclusively, a strong signal that promising defensive playmaker Sione Takitaki will not play this season for reasons BYU has yet to disclose.
“We will see [if Langi’s move is permanent],” Sitake said. “We will put our best 11 on the field.”
• A pair of the defense’s senior anchors, nose tackle Travis Tuiloma (Lisfranc foot injury) and safety Kai Nacua (double shoulder surgery) will see little, if any, contact in camp but hope to be ready for the opener on Sept. 3 against Arizona.
“Kai doesn’t really need as much hitting as some of the other safeties will,” Sitake said. “But yeah, I feel really confident with him.”
• Senior Michael Davis will almost certainly claim one starting cornerback spot, while returners Michael Shelton, Trevor Brent and Dayan Lake, junior college transfer Isaiah Armstrong, Washington State transfer Kamel Greene, and even freshman Troy Warner will compete for the other spot. Warner, a highly recruited freshman who joined the program last January, could eventually play on offense, he said Saturday in his first public comments to the media, but will concentrate on defense his first season.
• The offense was missing several key returning starters when camp opened Friday, most notably at receiver, where senior Nick Kurtz fractured his right foot in June and has been wearing a protective boot. Kurtz, who missed the 2014 season with a left foot injury, said Saturday he hopes to be ready for the opener.
“It is all based on how he progresses,” offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said. “We are not just going to rush him in there to have a body in there. If he can’t go, we have got guys who we feel like can go. We would love to have him, though.”
• Junior offensive lineman Tejan Koroma is back on the team and practicing after being suspended last January and missing spring camp, but might not immediately supplant senior Parker Dawe as the starting center on OL coach Mike Empey’s depth chart.
“Yes, he’s a good football player, all right?” Empey said. “But he’s had two days in this offense.”
• Two other experienced offensive linemen aren’t currently on the roster, one a surprise and the other not. Senior Kyle Johnson, a 36-game starter, is still battling “well-documented” injuries, Empey said. The coach declined to discuss why senior Brad Wilcox, who started 12 games last year and was featured at June’s football media day, is not in camp, and referred the question to Sitake.
Friday, when asked if any of the missing players for sure won’t be with BYU this season, Sitake said: “It is too early for me to say that right now. We got the guys we started with today and we will see how it goes from there.”
Sitake has been far more reticent to publicly discuss individual player situations regarding injury, discipline or the like than Bronco Mendenhall was.
• On special teams, the search for a reliable kicker has begun, but Sitake still isn’t hitting the panic button.
“James Baird [a freshman walk-on] did some good things with place-kicking,” Sitake said. “We will look at some of the other guys as well, but for the most part we feel comfortable with what we are doing right now. Not concerned at all.”