With just over one week in the books, there are some major storylines that have developed at BYU's fall practice session. Here's a look at the top 10 storylines we'll be keeping an eye on from now until the team kicks off against Washington State in Provo on Aug. 30.
The projected starters on the defensive line (Romney Fuga, Ian Dulan and Eathyn Manumaleuna) have as much experience and talent as you'd want along the defensive front. Given the nature of the position, all three will be hard-pressed to take every rep during games and will require good backup options.
Who those backups will be remains a concern with a host of inexperienced players vying for spots. The lone experienced backup is Russell Tialavea, who is still trying to regain his premission form. Other options include Simonte Vea, Remington Peck, Mike Muehlmann, Bronson Kaufusi, Theodore King, Tui Crichton and Marques Johnson, who is still hampered with injuries. Another option is Ezekial Ansah, who has logged practice time at both outside linebacker and at defensive end.
Both Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga return as starters, but who will back them up still has to be worked out. Zac Stout and Tyler Beck have logged the most time with the second unit on defense, but with Ogletree ailing since Thursday's scrimmage, Manoa Pikula has impressed and received reps with the first unit. Other options include Uani Unga and Austen Jorgensen for what looks to be the deepest position on the team.
The top three receiver spots seem secure with Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and JD Falslev looking to build upon their respective roles from last season. The search for the fourth receiver provides a load of options with a lot of different players providing good moments through the first week of fall practices.
Mitch Mathews, Terenn Houk, Jordan Smith, Dylan Collie, Cody Raymond, Alex Kuresa, Brett Thompson, Dallin Cutler, and Kurt Henderson all stand as real possibilities to log a lot of game time this season.
Once again there are plenty of vying options at tight end with no one in particular taking the lead. Last year it was Austin Holt and Marcus Mathews who established themselves as the lead guys. However Holt has been battling to regain his form after sustaining a knee injury, and Mathews has been sidelined with his own injury problems.
Meanwhile, Devin Mahina broke his hand during the first few days of practices, which provided Richard Wilson and Kaneakua Friel with more opportunities with the first-team offense. One week into fall practices it's anyone's guess who will end up on the two-deep roster.
Preston Hadley returns as the starting boundary cornerback after a successful 2011 season. On the other side Jordan Johnson has impressed everyone with his consistent and tenacious play.
Johnson has been hyped as an up-and-comer since joining the program in 2010 and after two years, he looks to poised to arrive as one of the best cover corners the program has seen in some time.
Sorensen came to BYU with a load of hype, but has been limited due to an unfortunate string of injuries. His back is still hurting and he hasn't attempted even a single field goal throughout August in practice. Coaches are awaiting a final determination on his availability — hopeful that he'll be ready in time for the season, but his lack of reps could limit how effective he is even if deemed healthy enough to perform.
Riley Stephenson will likely receive primary place-kicking duties if Sorensen can't go.
The nickel formation should be used widely again this season with the need to have three solid safeties as a result. It was assumed those three would be Daniel Sorensen, Joe Sampson and Mike Hague at the start of the practice session, but Craig Bills has shaken that up a bit.
Bills is recently returned from his LDS mission service after logging time as a true freshman his first year and has impressed. He's ahead of where many thought he would be at this stage, and will likely be used in some capacity this coming year.
James Lark has been inconsistent, and Taysom Hill is showing a lot of promise. Who will get the call if Riley Nelson goes down with injury is surely a major storyline this fall and has yet to be resolved as a result.
With Lark you have more experience and command of the offense while Hill provides a lot of upside with the benefit of being prepped for next season's starting role. Jason Munns and Ammon Olsen have both had their moments and have outside shots of placing their names on the two-deep roster although it certainly looks like a two-man race between Lark and Hill.
Coaches have mentioned they plan to use Hill, if not as Nelson's primary backup, in unique roles within the offense such as running out of a "wildcat" formation.
It can be assumed that Michael Alisa will see the majority of the carries when the season kicks off, but who backs him up? Right now there looks to be four primary candidates who have each had their moments during fall practices.
David Foote has always impressed during practice sessions and could see a steady role in the Cougar backfield for the first time in his career. Adam Hine is starting to show glimpses of why he was so hyped out of high school while Jamaal Williams is one of the most exciting true freshmen the team has seen for years. Rugby star Paul Lasike hasn't seen as many reps as the other three, but is still looks impressive with what limited work he gets.
We'll be watching closely which one of these four establishes themselves as the top backup option as fall camp progresses.
The ugly guts that have defined BYU offensive lines of years past are largely gone. The o-line looks as trim and fit as ever and it should translate to better overall production across the board. That's the good news.
The bad news is the lack of continuity with the first-teamers. Projected starters Braden Hansen and Houston Reynolds have logged almost no time with the No. 1 team due to inability to pass the offensive line fitness test and shore shins, respectively. Other assumed starters have sat out too many practice sessions with minor injuries, which led quarterback Riley Nelson to express some frustration.
"It all starts up front. I haven't had the same five guys in front of me from one day to the next," Nelson said. "That's frustrating. But at the same time, there's nothing I can do to control that, so I can't worry about that. Neither can the coaches or the other players.
"It's up to each one of those guys to do what they've got to do to get back on the field. In some cases, that's rest and letting an injury heal. In other cases, there are things they can do that they can control and they need to do that. The sooner the better, as far as the offensive line is concerned."