This fall there has been a noticeable change in Riley Nelson. Last year he was quick to run and slow to read and go through his progressions.
“One thing that is really hard to do is to train a quarterback to drop back in a progression-based offense,” said Coach Doman. “You’ve got a key defender read and maybe it’s a high-to-low read and then he has to come back to the backside of the triangle and check it down to a running back.
“To get a quarterback enough volume to go through with the reads and then check it down to a running back takes a lot of work. In the NFL they have the time to do it, but in college you really don’t have as much time to do it.”
Nelson didn’t get the necessary reps last season because he initially played behind quarterback Jake Heaps.
“We have pre-snap alerts and that’s what we call them, and then we have a progression read,” said Coach Doman. “That’s the most difficult thing to teach a quarterback to do. To read his area read, or his first progression read, then come back to his check down. Neither Jake nor Riley had done that very well and it’s a matter of volume and repetitions. For a true freshman to get those wasn’t going to happen.”
With Nelson, there has been improvement in the area of transforming an athlete who play the quarterback position into a true BYU quarterback that can manipulate the defense.
“I think the combination of Riley playing the last seven games and having the entire offseason now of volume of experience will finally give him the time to do those type of things now,” Coach Doman said.
“I’m a quarterback at BYU and every day when I walk the halls I see pictures of Gary Sheide, Gifford Nielsen, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, Steve Sarkisian, Brandon Doman, John Beck and Max Hall,” said Nelson. “Seeing pictures of those guys walking down the hall is all the motivation I need to improve each and every day.”
Coach Doman has some very high goals that he wants his offense to achieve.
“I want our offense to be the number-one most efficient progression-based passing offense in the nation,” said Coach Doman. “That’s what I would like it to be. That means 35 passes a game, 22 or 23 completions, 300 yards passing a game at a 65 completion percentage or better, and a three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio or better every game.
“If we do that, it puts us in the top five QB efficiency rating in the country. That’s what we want. That’s what our kids are going to learn and they’re figuring it out right now. I think at BYU, because of the personnel we have, we can always be doing that.”
Nelson, meanwhile, wants his completion percentage to be higher than Coach Doman’s goal of 65 percent.
“In the passing game, I want to have a high efficiency ratio in the passing game,” said Nelson. “I want to keep my passing percentage above 70 percent with no turnovers. I don’t care how we get into the end zone, but for me personally with how I distribute the ball in the passing game, my goal is to be above 70 percent with no turnovers.”
Doman’s goal of being in the top five in passer efficiency rating is a tall order to live up to given the many prolific passing teams all across the country.
“Forget about what everyone else is doing around the country,” said Nelson. “To live up to the tradition that’s been set here will take you far above and beyond what anyone else is doing around the nation. That’s how I look at it. So, you have a lot to live up to and that alone makes you want to be the best you can be.”
So what changes will BYU fans see in Nelson this year? They’ll see more of a pocket passer that will look to pick apart defenses through reads in the passing game.
“Well, we’re seeing Riley stand in the pocket more and make the pass downfield,” said cornerback Preston Hadley. “He seems a lot more comfortable standing in there and making the reads while the play is developing, and he’s doing a great job of making the right reads. We all know Riley can run, but when you combine this part to his game it just makes it harder for us to defend him.”