When the 2013 spring camp begins, there will be new players, new coaches, and even the return of a past coach. The new offensive coaching era begins, and with that there are new and exciting possibilities involving scheme, player evaluations and development.
Gone are seniors Riley Nelson and James Lark, leaving sophomore Taysom Hill – who played in six games last season and completed 59 percent of his passes – wide open to take the reins. However, spring camp is generally reserved for competition, and that includes the quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see if Hill has recovered enough from his season-ending injury to fully participate in all aspects of practice. The quarterback is generally protected from contact anyway, but with Hill’s tendency to run, there might be a more cautious approach. Coach Anae has also mentioned that he would like to implement more mobility from the quarterback position, making the management of Hill throughout spring camp more intriguing.
While Hill has the inside track for the starting job, the second-string quarterback position is wide open. Senior Jason Munns, a quarterback that Coach Anae really liked prior to leaving for the University of Arizona, didn’t contend for playing time last season following injuries to both Nelson and Hill. This is sort of a head-scratcher given the fact he was so highly recruited out of high school and seems to have all the physical intangibles. Still, the position of starting or backup quarterback has to be won out on the field, and if Munns wants to be either, he’ll have to beat out Hill or sophomore Ammon Olsen.
During fall camp quarterback drills last season, Olsen threw the ball with velocity and very good accuracy. His arm strength was noticeable. The only hitch was his footwork, and it was apparent he was a little rusty, having recently come home from serving a mission. Now that Olsen has gone through a season since his mission, he’s had enough time to become acclimated and familiar to the skills required.
If there is a position within the offense other than wide receiver that has a lot of potential and excitement surrounding it, it’s running back. The rushing corps lost one running back in David Foote and one fullback in Zed Mendenhall, and will return a talented stable.
The surprise of last season was true freshman Jamaal Williams, who burst onto the scene. Williams has a year under his belt, and so he’ll be more experienced and more physically mature by the time the 2013 season rolls around. How much more he develops physically is anyone’s guess. Heading into spring camp, Williams will be slated as one of two main running back weapons. The other will be Michael Alisa, who is rejoining the group after breaking his arm last season. Williams and Alisa should form a solid one-two punch. Given his outstanding production last year, one would surmise that Williams has the inside track as the premier running back for 2013. However, if Anae goes to a pro-style offense where two backs are utilized, both Williams and Alisa could become the featured backs.
The third possibility in the running back position is sophomore Adam Hine. Hine showed flashes during fall camp last season, but was hampered by injuries that kept him from competing at a higher level. Barring injury, he could find his way into the backfield this season, spelling either Williams or Alisa at specific times. Spring camp will give a greater look into that possibility.
The two fullback-type players in the backfield will be Iona Pritchard and Paul Lasike. Coach Doman went away from using a fullback last year early in the season, opting for the option and zone running with Williams. How much the fullbacks will be now used within the offense will be something to watch.
With Cody Hoffman’s decision to return to BYU for his senior season, there won’t be much change in the wide receiver lineup. Hoffman will play the x-receiver as he’s done the past three years. What might change, however, is the jump in production with a new quarterback that is able to more consistently connect with him further downfield. Hoffman is on the verge of becoming BYU’s all-time leader in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and catches.
Opposite of Hoffman will be junior Ross Apo. Unlike Hoffman, Apo was highly recruited but hasn’t had the type of production his counterpart has enjoyed. Apo will need to become more mentally tough this season and develop into that receiver most believe he could become. With a new quarterback able to utilize the field side, Apo should have more chances to be involved within the offense. Now it’s a matter of him developing his confidence, physicality and moxy so he can really go out and dominate opponents. Apo needs a coming-out party, and if there was a year for that to happen, it would be 2013 given the schedule.
At the slot or h-receiver position will be senior J.D. Falslev, who was second on the team in receptions last season behind Hoffman. If the past is any indicator, Falslev should figure well into Coach Anae’s offense given the fact the slot receiver played a big role under the BYU offensive coordinator. Falslev should continue to harass linebackers and safeties with his quick route running and smart play in 2013.
The tight end position will be looked at to become more of a productive part of the offense. Injuries and a lack of consistency have hindered production despite the loads of talent that has been stocked in recent years. Developing the tight ends to be effective weapons within the offense has to be a focus.
Senior Kaneakua Friel should be the frontrunner here. However, Friel has struggled with consistency in catching the ball. Improving on this will be his focus in spring camp, as he was a decent blocker out of the three-point stance.
The number two tight end more than likely will be Devin Mahina, who is further away from a neck injury that kept him off the field in 2011. He was used sparingly in 2012, catching eight passes for 128 yards. A junior this upcoming season, Mahina should be raring to go more as the flexed tight end, much like Andrew George and Dennis Pitta. Coach Anae loved to use big tight ends in the slot in the past. The question is whether he will do a similar thing with his tight ends now.
Richard Wilson is another tight end that could be used at the flex tight end position. He’s one of the faster tight ends in the group, and this will be his final season as a Cougar. Wilson will want to make some noise this year, and if he’s to be in the rotation, he’ll have to gain the trust of the coaches by showing he can get the job done.
For his junior season, Austin Holt has been moved from tight end to the defensive side of the ball. What is yet to be determined is how Marcus Mathews will play into all of this. Will he be moved to outside receiver, as was hinted at last season prior to Mathews suffering an injury, or will he be moved back to the tight end position where he wants to play? It’s just another question to look at during spring camp.
Other tight ends in the mix will be Stehly Reden, Jordan Egbert, Darin Tuttle and Mike Edmunds.
Along with the tight end group, the offensive line group is one that will need to be remedied quickly if BYU is to be competitive during 2013. After the past few years yielded less-than-desirable results up front, a greater emphasis was placed on fixing the problems. This was seen in the hiring of Coach Anae, who was Arizona’s offensive line coach, and Coach Tujague. Both will focus on turning BYU’s pass-protectors and run-blockers into a formidable front. The staff will look to replace two of its better offensive linemen in Braden Hansen and Braden Brown as a new culture of aggression and physicality looks to be established.
Last year’s starter Ryker Mathews will have the inside track to start again at left tackle. Mathews had a fairly good first year in his starting debut as a redshirt freshman. With a year under his belt, Mathews should be better this season, but has some room to grow in both the pass-blocking and run-blocking schemes. The good news for Mathews is that Coach Tujague is very good at developing offensive tackles. In fact, new TCU signee Lloyd Tunstill credits Coach Tujague for helping him become the type of tackle that landed him a TCU scholarship.
Lat year, left guard was manned by Solomone Kofu after Famika Anae’s college career was cut short and came to a sudden end. Although Kofu is a bit raw, with his sophomore year being his first year of game experience, he is one of the stronger members of the team. At 6 feet 2 inches and 305 pounds, Kofu will need to apply his bullish strength as he becomes a more polished technician. Having worked for a season alongside Mathews should help with the switch-blocking chemistry.
The center is the quarterback of the offensive line. He has to not only snap the ball quickly and successfully, but also get into blocking position quickly. On top of that, the center has to be able to read defenses prior to the snap in order to make the right blocking calls. He has to have position I.Q. and a command that instills confidence across the line so as not to create second-guessing. Last season the center position was in flux, with Blair Tushaus and Braden Hansen both playing at that spot. This season Tushaus will be the one with the most experience and the one with the best exchange of any on the roster. The only question will be if he was able to add good weight to his frame that will allow him to be more competitive.
Out of Colorado, Terrance Alletto was one of the top offensive linemen in the state. On top of that, he was a center and could compete for playing time this upcoming season despite his inexperience and the fact that he’s on the lighter side at 262 pounds.
The other potential center could be Houston Reynolds, who suffered an Achilles injury last season. It’s yet to be determined what his status is, but there is a good chance that Reynolds might not participate in spring camp. If somehow Reynolds is a part of spring camp, he could be in competition for the center position, having played there in the past. However, he likely won’t practice until fall camp.
The lack of depth at the center position makes it one of vulnerability. Incoming true freshman Brayden Kearsley has mentioned it’s a position he could possibly play, but that won’t be until fall camp. The same holds true for Josh Carter, so seeing how Coach Anae and Coach Tujague remedy this situation will be of interest during spring camp.
After Brock Stringham began last season as the starter at right guard, Manaaki Vaitai eventually took over his starting spot. Much like Kofu, Vaitai will benefit from a year of actual playing experience. Chemistry might be a concern given the fact that Vaitai could be flanked by new players, depending on who starts at center and right tackle. Vaitai will need to lean upon his senior experience and leadership to create that interior cohesiveness that was lacking lack season.
Right tackle is now vacant with the graduation of longtime starter Braden Brown. Michael Yeck was backing up Ryker Mathews last year and could be a viable option, along with Brad Wilcox. With Vaitai having the inside track at the right guard position, could Stringham be moved to right tackle given the fact he does have playing experience? Along with the center position, the right tackle spot will be one heavily watched over spring camp.
The aforementioned are some of the obvious candidates. Others that will be competing this spring for a chance to see the field are Andrew Crawford, Quinn Lawlor, Jordan Black (who returned home from a mission) and Tui Crichton, who was switched back from the defensive side of the ball.