Things run a little differently at BYU when it comes to spring football. Most major college football programs conclude their spring practice schedule with their spring football game- not BYU.
"What BYU does is they have their spring game and then they practice a week after that," said Jay Drew, who covers the Cougars for the Salt Lake Tribune. "That's pretty unusual. Their spring game was around March 28 and then they practiced for another week."
BYU still practiced prior to the spring game as well. Unique spring format or not, the Cougars could not avoid a serious injury this spring. Trenton Trammell, a junior college transfer cornerback, tore an ACL on the very first day of spring camp.
"That was kind of rough news for them," Drew said. "He was projected to be one of the starting corners this year and he's going to have to sit out the whole year now. Luckily he's got a redshirt year available."
Trammell played for the City College of San Francisco for two seasons prior to transferring to BYU this winter. He led the NorCal Conference with 19 passes defended in 2011 and totaled 57 tackles, including 43 solo, in his two juco seasons.
Mike Hague, who began his college career in 2006, is converting from safety to provide depth at cornerback. Hague served an LDS mission in 2007 and 2008 and was granted an extra season of eligibility for 2013 after tearing a calf muscle last season.
While losing Trammell for the 2013 was a big blow to the Cougars, they also got some good news this spring on the injury front. Taysom Hill, who went down with a knee injury midway through the 2012 season, was cleared for play in the spring and played well.
"He was kind of the odds-on favorite to get the starting job if he was healthy," Drew said of Hill. "That was kind of the big 'if'. The injury wasn't as bad as was originally diagnosed. They thought he had torn both his ACL and MCL and it turned out it was just the MCL."
Hill made two starts as a freshman in 2012 prior to the injury (he served an LDS mission after graduating from high school in 2009). He passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns while running for 336 yards and four more scores with action in a total of six games last season. He passed for 112 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 143 yards and a TD in his first start - a 47-0 romp over Hawaii.
Drew said Southern Utah transfer Ammon Olsen is second on the quarterback depth chart behind Hill. Christian Stewart, a junior college transfer, is third on the depth chart.
The biggest question BYU had going into the spring remains unanswered heading into the summer. The Cougar offensive line will be completely revamped next season. BYU ran for just 153 yards a game and allowed 30 sacks in 2012. Several junior college players are expected to fill the vacated spots on the line, but none will arrive on campus until this summer.
"A couple guys who are returning starters were injured and had offseason surgery," Drew added. "We learned absolutely nothing about what the offensive line will be like this fall. I think there was one guy who played in the spring game on the line who will actually see the field this fall on the offensive line. That was the big question going in and it's still the big question going out."
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall made a change at offensive coordinator after BYU's 8-5 2012 season, which ended with a 23-6 win over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Robert Anae is back as BYU's OC after holding that position for Rich Rodriquez at Arizona for the last two years. Anae was previously the offensive coordinator at BYU from 2005-2010.
"He's putting in more of a hurry-up, quick tempo offense (that is) kind of like what Oregon runs," Drew said of Anae's new scheme. "I don't know if they can do it that well (like Oregon), but that's kind of the plan. They were pretty happy with how it was installed and with how the players picked-up on it. When people think of BYU they don't think of speed and up-tempo and fast pace, but that's what they tell us they're going to try to do."
BYU's offense had once relied on throwing the ball to the tight end, but they have gotten away from that in recent years. The Cougars did not have a tight end on the roster that they thought could fit the bill for a good receiving target, so they converted 6'3, 220 pound receiver to the position this spring.
"Low and behold, he's number one on the depth chart at tight end after just one spring camp," Drew said. "He kind of emerged and he'll be a guy they look for and see if they get back to throwing to the tight end more, which was a staple of Anae's offense before."
Current Baltimore Raven Dennis Pitta and former Philadelphia Eagle Chad Lewis are examples of successful tight ends BYU has produced in the past. Thompson saw action in 11 games last season, but he did not have a reception.
"They basically decided they didn't have a tight end on the roster they were comfortable with, so they converted Brett Thompson to tight end," Drew continued. "We're hearing good things about what he's been able to do."
The biggest loss the Cougars suffer is at defensive end, where Ziggy Ansah became the fifth overall pick in last month's NFL Draft (Detroit Lions).
"Ironically, the guy who began the season as the starter, Eathyn Manumaleuna, got injured and Ansah got to play as a result," said Drew. "He was a senior, but he got injured early enough in the season that the NCAA gave him a year back. They should be ok in that spot with him coming back assuming he's healthy."
BYU will also return two of its top two players, receiver Cody Hoffman and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, from 2012. Both could have opted for the NFL, but decided to return instead. Van Noy led the Cougars with 22 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last year. Hoffman set single-season school records with 100 receptions and 1,248 yards in 2012.