Sophomore linebacker Gary Lovely lined up at linebacker with the first-teamers for the first time today. Lovely has played exclusively on the defensive line for several years and is making a quicker-than-expected transition up the linebacker depth chart. As a 205-pound defensive end last season at Foothill College (JC), Lovely recorded 55 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble and 1 blocked PAT.
Crowton said, "I'm very excited about our linebackers here. We don't have a lot of game experience, but we have a lot of people we think we can play in there. We have some versatility there as well. Poppinga played some linebacker last year and I suspect he'll do some of the same this year."
What was intriguing was his next statement: "John Denney (defensive end) and Manaia Brown (defensive tackle) are two other guys that you could see as linebackers in some packages. With the versatility of this defense, we can go three down linemen, four down linemen or five down linemen. Because of that versatility, we have a lot more options at linebacker," Crowton said.
"We're going to be good defensively. Bronco (Mendenhall) did a great job with them last year and that has continued into this year," head coach Gary Crowton told reporters.
After BYU's first full-pads practice Friday where its young offensive line prevented the defense from recording a single sack, the defense reasserted itself Monday morning with a vengeance, frustrating the offense repeatedly.
The most impressive defensive lineman was senior Shaun Nua, who bested his opposite on virtually every down, getting to the quarterback on most passing plays. Other standout plays included:
* Senior cornerback Micah Alba knocked down a sideline pass intended for freshman wide receiver Antwaun Harris.
* Junior defensive back Spencer White knocked down another pass to Harris on a similar pattern.
* Sophomore cornerback Greg Lovely made a spectacular play on a pass intended for freshman receiver Michael Reed, laying out his body in mid-air to knock down a fade pattern to Reed downfield about 30 yards.
* Freshman defensive back Billy Skinner had an interception in a red zone drill along with fellow freshman Dustin Gabriel.
* Junior cornerback O'Neil Howell made his presence known, ripping a ball from the hands of Michael Reed right after he caught a pass.
* Junior defensive tackle Vince Feula saw his first significant practice action with the second-team unit.
* Senior Cougarback Aaron Francisco ruled the middle, popping several guys on crossing routes. He noticeably held back on hitting since they were practicing in half-pads.
* Junior linebacker Justin Luettgerodt continued to deliver his now commonplace licks on offensive players across the middle.
The Cougars offense also had highlights of its own. In the broken-record department, junior wide receiver Todd Watkins made his impact known early and often, taking the very first pass from John Beck in the practice-ending 11-on11 drills for a 40yard gain. He also made a sensational one-handed grab on an out pattern and several other catches downfield and over the middle.
Freshman receiver Austin Collie shined again with several nice grabs, one in a red zone drill where he caught a perfect pass thrown by Matt Berry in the back of the end zone. Fellow freshman receiver Antwaun Harris also caught a similar pass from John Beck in the back of the end zone.
Junior running back Naufahu Tahi saw the majority of and fared well. Meanwhile, freshman Raymond Hudson showed great instincts on one run, cutting back on a designed off-tackle run to the right back to the middle.
In special team drills, they practiced punt returns with freshmen B.J. Mathis, Bryce Mahuika, Saia Hafoka, Antwaun Harris, sophomore Brett Cooper and senior Micah Alba.
Injured wide receivers Joe Griffin and Michael Morris dressed, but did not participate in drills
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