Spring practice is over, the Blue and White game has ended, and questions are turning into answers. As spring practice came to a close it is apparent that things have changed since last year. The team is working harder; they are moving around more, pushing each other, and Bronco says they have been "very competitive." This team is also much more experienced than last year with Jake Heaps as the unquestioned leader. Today I'll be going over and breaking down the positions on offense.
Bronco when asked about the position battles: "I like what is happening at tight end, I like what is happening at receiver. I like what is happening at running back. I like what is happening in the secondary, at linebacker. It is almost more, 'what position don't I like where the competition is,'" he said.
Almost all aspects of the offense are running very efficiently with Brandon Doman at the helm. The quarterbacks are looking very poised, the running backs are physical, the receivers are dangerous, and the line is sturdy.
The Quarterbacks: Jake Heaps is the man. Last year we all saw his transformation from frosh thrown into the fire to a poised player who knows what he’s doing. And throughout spring practices he has continued to show that same poise and even improve on it. We all know his arm strength is almost super human; (it was the reason for many a dropped pass last season) but now he’s learning how to control that strength and working on his touch. I think he’ll be the next great BYU QB. He has the skills, he has the coaches, now he just needs to go out and prove it.
There’s a reason why we had a quarterback controversy last year, and that’s because Riley Nelson is easily starter material. He doesn’t have the strongest arm but he’s becoming more poised in the pocket (doesn’t just scramble if his first reads don’t produce) and is reading defenses well. He also has that amazing scrambling ability that forces defenses to stay honest. If Heaps goes down with an injury we’ll be in safe hands with Nelson.
And then we have Jason Munns and James Lark. I’m convinced that both of these guys have the skills and ability to start at a D1 school. Maybe not for a top 25 team but they could start on a bowl team if given the reps. I think of these guys as downgraded Jake Heaps. They are good pocket passers, can read the defense and make the correct plays. If we didn’t have Heaps or Nelson, I’d take either one of them as my backup. The edge would go to Lark though.
The Running backs: Our running back core is deep. It’s awfully deep. Our three top RBs from last year-JJ DiLuigi, Brian Kariya, and Joshua "Juice" Quezada-all return, and many other key backs, including Zed Mendenhall, also return. Under Coach Joe Dupaix all the backs have been much more physical. Juice also lost some weight in the offseason and has gained more speed because of it.
One of the biggest surprises this spring has been Michael Alisa. Before his mission Alisa earned playing time at linebacker, but this spring he asked Bronco if he could be switched over to fullback. Because Mike Hague was moved from fullback to safety Mendenhall was the only FB. Alisa had to slim down a bit for the position change and, like Quezada, it’s helped his game out. Right now Alisa’s as good a two as there is, and he can even do some things Mendenhall can’t; like receiving out of the backfield and running off tackle.
Alisa on switching to fullback: "We needed some fullbacks and I'm willing to do whatever. I'm back playing my favorite position so I'm in dreamland right now. I love it."
A few other backs that stood out during spring ball were Drew Phillips, David Foote, and Ryan Folsom. They were each solid options coming out of spring and will compete for more playing time in the fall.
The Receivers: With Ben Cahoon at the helm and more experience under their belts the receivers are looking better than they have in years. They are more confident, they’re running their routs better, and they’re very physical. The trio of Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, and McKay Jacobson will be dynamic. Apo and Hoffman are very big, very physical and are great pass catchers. We all know what Jacobson is capable of, and this coming season could very well be his best.
Hoffman: "I actually feel more confident this spring ball. We’re just looking better all around. I’m looking forward to this season. It will be fun. [It helps that] I have a year under my belt; I know what’s going on."
JD Falslev, Rhen Brown, and Matt Marshall also looked good this spring. I would expect to see them all get time, especially in the slot, and produce.
The Tight Ends: After last year’s fiasco at tight end, this year couldn’t have gotten any worse. In fact, it improved immensely under the guidance of Coach Lance Reynolds. It’s still a work in progress and probably the biggest question mark on the offense to this point; but considering how our tight ends were last year they’ve seen a great deal of improvement.
Austin Holt looks like the most well rounded tight end out there. He is a gifted pass catcher and the best blocker of the tight ends. If Holt is the best blocker, than Marcus Mathews is the best rout runner of the group. He is also one of the most capable pass catchers among the TEs. Also look for Devin Mahina, who can block and catch passes pretty well.
The Offensive Line: In a way the offensive line situation is similar to the past couple of year. Three returning starters and one projected starter were all out for spring practices. But that’s where the similarity ends. This year the depth was so good we still managed to achieve a good two deep without them. With the extra reps going to projected two’s it will only make our o-line that much better.
Brandon Brown on the injury issues: "It’s been a great learning experience. A lot of guys have to step up. It’s also been a great chance for me to be a leader at tackle position."
Aside from Braden Hansen, Matt Reynolds, Terence Brown, and Walter Kahaiali’i-the projected starters-some players we should expect to see a lot of are Braden Brown (a starter from last year), Marco Thorson, Houston Reynolds, Manaaki Vaitai, Houston Reynolds, Terence Brown, and Ryker Mathews. That’s a pretty deep line.