PROVO — This is the first year that Nick Howell has been given the reins of being special teams coordinator at BYU. With his new assignment came a renewed focus on kick coverages and other special teams work.
So is the new special teams coordinator OK with the increased focus on special teams work? "Heck yes," said Howell. "It's a third of the game. We have our offensive and defensive pillars, and the only way you're going to get to those pillars is by getting the ball to the right spot, and you only get the ball to the right spot when your special teams are great."
As has become the norm, the coaches have delegated a lot of the special teams coordinating responsibilities to their captains. This year's captains are Travis Uale (punt return), Brandon Ogletree (punt coverage), Uona Kaveinga (kick coverage) and Bryan Kariya (kick return.)
"We're letting them take it, and they're like a coach," said Howell. "We're just asking them what we can do for them as a coach and letting them run with it. They know how to organize, they know how to teach, and it creates a lot of ownership because the players look up to them."
As the special teams captains, they get to decide which players are on each special teams group. According to Howell it helps create a unique bond that will aid the overall special teams production.
Another thing that is looking to aid the overall special teams production is the return to form of Justin Sorensen. Upon his return from mission service, he wasn't seeing near the length that defined him during his first year as a player.
This fall practice session, he's looked to have regained a lot of that distance, however.
"I have about 10 yards more distance on my kicks than I did in spring," said Sorensen. "The biggest improvement I'm seeing is with my kickoffs. I'm consistently getting it to the end zone and through the end zone now, which I was used to doing before my mission."
He's also seeing increased distance on his field goal attempts. Today's practice session saw him connect on two straight attempts from 47 yards with plenty of yards to spare.
As practices came to a close, he just came up a few yards short of connecting on a couple of attempts from 67 yards out.
"I wanted those, but we'll keep on working," he said. "I'm just glad that I've gotten my distance back. I've worked hard on it, and man, it was real frustrating for me this spring, not being able to kick like I did. I'm confident now, and I feel that I can really help this team now."
Howell would agree.
"He has a strong leg. He looked good today," Howell said. "The kicker is huge, the punter too. It's not just about how strong they are, but where they can put it."
MISC: Heaps finished live drills going 4-for-5 for 98 yards, which included a 70-yard bomb to Ross Apo that went for a touchdown ... Riley Nelson was 0-for-2, which included a pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo. ... James Lark finished going 2-for-3 for 27 yards, which included a nice 20-yard leaping catch by Dalin Cutler ... Sacks were recorded by Ezekial Ansah, Travis Tuiloma and Alani Fua ... Both Jordan Richardson and Romney Fuga saw extended work for the first time this spring and both looked good ... Houston Reynolds was back with the first-team offensive line taking up the left guard spot ... Safeties Mike Hague and Carter Mees both saw a lot of work with the first-team defense today with Hague at free safety and Mees at strong safety.