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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Have Injuries Rendered BYU Spring Football Futile?

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson is “peeved.” Head coach Bronco Mendenhall is feeling some “aggravation.” Why? They are reduced to using a quarterback at tight end.

Injuries have taken a Toll, yes—Toll—with a capital t, on the BYU offense this spring. In addition to the crisis at tight end, the offense can’t even field two complete offensive lines for a spring game. At times during the 2011 season, it seemed like Cody Hoffman was the only receiver for the Cougars. This spring, he literally is the only experienced receiver able to practice.

The running backs are healthy, but it doesn’t really matter. The veteran Cougar D is overpowering the raw offensive line so much that coaches stop run plays shortly after the ball carriers take the handoff. So much for trying to fix the weak link from last year’s offense.

The defense had a few key players unavailable since the beginning, but for the most part they had gone unscathed during spring. Oops, I spoke too soon. Just this week, two cornerbacks, Jordan Johnson and DeQuan Everett, have been bit by the injury bug.

If you haven’t done it yet, let’s do it all together. Throw your hands up in despair and ask, “What gives?” BYU might as well cancel the rest of spring practice and petition the NCAA to allow the team extra practice sessions in the fall. With all these injuries continuing to practice is futile, right?

Wrong.

The silver lining in the rash of injuries is the opportunity for player development and for building character.

Knowing that the work in team sessions is going to be unproductive, the coaches can now focus more of their time and energy on teaching technique to players and developing position specific skills. Every player has room from improvement. Spring practice is one of the few times that the NCAA allows players and coaches to interact during the offseason. Nelson might be missing some of his top targets, but that doesn’t hinder him from working with Brandon Doman on his throwing mechanics.

During the season, coaches don’t have the time to work much with players who aren’t at the top of the depth chart. Not only does spring afford that opportunity, this year the Cougar coaches have no other option. The inexperienced players are the only ones available. Dallin Cutler, Cody Raymond, and Kurt Henderson were afterthoughts five months ago. Now they are getting the bulk of the reps. Even if they become afterthoughts again when everyone is healthy, the team benefits because they will be better players for the defense to face on the scout team.

Then again, who says all of these spring casualties means BYU will be immune to injury during the fall? BYU lost three tight ends last year to injury. The demands on an unsuspecting Kaneakua Fiel fresh off his mission quickly grew. The running game struggled much of 2011 because the guy expected to carry the load had unexpected health problems. The depth being developed now should prove valuable should injuries continue to plague the team come fall.

Depth isn’t the only requirement to stop a season from quickly unraveling if a few players go down. For a team to survive injuries it takes depth and character. Character is needed to overcome adversity, and injuries are a real form of adversity.

Nearly all of the injured players are expected to be healthy when preparations for the 2012 season become earnest in August. However, the injuries can be a detriment to team moral right now. Bronco Mendenhall needs to rally the team and convince everyone that the rest of spring is not a lost cause, and that they should stay upbeat and continue to give 100 percent.

Character is a great intangible asset to any team.

The injuries are disappointing and unfortunate, but the BYU Cougars can still profit from spring practices. The coaches have to shift their focus to player development and fine tuning individual mechanics. The coaches and players’ character needs to grow throughout this adversity into the type of character that will lead to a greater sense of urgency during the voluntary summer workouts and fall camp to make up for lost time.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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