Sometimes, Bronco Mendenhall seems reticent (c. Todd Christensen) to delineate position battles this early in the game, but fans have been given a little carrot on which to chew ahead of the long summer wait. BYU released a final spring depth chart and prospectus on Wedensday.
The headliner was an early declaration of commitment to wunderkind Taysom Hill, placed at the starting quarterback spot. Fellow sophomore Ammon Olsen is listed at backup after faring quite well in spring practice.
In a statement, Mendenhall said, "We have named Taysom the starter because of his game experience in 2012, strong leadership qualities and his breakaway speed and athleticism. Ammon also had a phenomenal spring. I am confident in his ability. We have two very capable quarterbacks."
Some surprises dotted the chart, most notably the placement of 6'0" senior Skyler Ridley ahead of 6'3" junior Ross Apo at one of the wide receiver positions. Ridley caught 20 passes for 206 yards last season in a limited role, and hauled in 2012's first touchdown while filling in for an injured Cody Hoffman in the season opener. Did Ridley blow coaches away, or is this a message to Apo that his honeymoon is over?
Another interesting development was the placement of junior Brett Thompson as equal with senior Kaneakua Friel at the tight end position, while Friel appears behind Iona Pritchard at the "Hback" position as well.
That makes eight skill positions, two too many, with the slot (Falslev), TE (Thompson/Friel), and Hback (Pritchard) taking on transitive roles depending on formation.
The offensive depth chart does also list two RB positions. If this is an indication of a commitment to run the ball like Anae experienced at Arizona, count me in. Adam Hine and Paul Lasike are listed as backups to Williams and Alisa in the backfield.
Starters at offensive line are listed as Ryker Matthews, Solomone Kafu, Terrance Alletto, Kyle Johnson, and Michael Yeck. But arriving soon at BYU will be four-star recruit Brayden Kearsley and the junior college reinforcements of Josh Carter, Tim Duran, Edward Fusi, and De'ondre Wesley. Things will change up front before the season kicks off in Charlottesville.
Staying in the trenches, D-line starters are listed as Remington Peck, 12th-year senior Eathyn Manumaleuna, and Dave Rose's enforcer, Bronson Kaufusi. It wouldn't surprise me to see Bronco bump Kaufusi off the starting line as some sort of message for playing basketball, but even Bronco can't pretend Kaufusi isn't a star.
Marques Johnson, a JC transfer from last season, converted tight end Austin Holt, Michael Doman, and Logan Taele are listed as D-line backups. If incoming freshman JonRyheem Peoples is as good as billed, though, he should crack the two-deep by the end of fall camp. The depth certainly wouldn't hurt.
At linebacker, senior Spencer Hadley predictably gets the nod at strong-side backer, with Alani Fua his backup. Fua saw the field often last year in a sort of hybrid nickel role, which may happen again in 2013.
Uani 'Unga tops the list at middle backer, while Tyler Beck has wrested away the buck position from presumed starter Manoa Pikula. Last year, the sophomore Pikula garnered praise from Mendenhall as a freshman who would soon make an impact, but reports of Beck's strong spring were apparently not overstated.
And at weak-side backer ... oh hai Kyle Van Noy. [Insert string of happy emoticons here.]
A clear area of concern is the defensive secondary, where starters are listed as Jordan Johnson (field), Mike Hague (boundary), Daniel Sorensen (KAT), and Craig Bills (free). Sorensen and Bills should do well, but are backed up by freshman Jacob Hannemann (who didn't play spring ball because he is on the baseball team) and Blake Morgan.
This isn't to mention the boundary corner position, where a converted fullback Hague is backed up by sophomore Michael Wadsworth (eat it, Norm Chow). I've never been sure about Hague in the secondary, and frankly, neither were coaches. JC transfer Trenton Trammell was recruited to start at boundary, and blew out his knee right after spring ball started.
To me, this means we better hope JC transfer Sam Lee and three-star freshman Dallin Leavitt are ready to go. Both talent and depth are an issue here.
Nobody's talking about special teams after the depth chart release, but some important things are happening there, too.
Justin Sorensen, famed booter of footballs over mountains in high school, returns as a senior. Will his leg ever match the hype? It feels like all we've seen from Sorensen is close-range shanks and long-range kicks straight into the arms of the defensive line. If we presume last season was a direct result of his back injury, and give him the benefit of the doubt, then maybe we can hold out hope for the field-goal game. But before he ever gets a chance to kick off against Virginia, he'll likely be paralyzed by a venomous viper to add to his string of misfortune (hurting back while lifting, breaking leg after falling off porch, bitten by brown recluse spider).
And I just wrote 120 words about the kicker.
The other kicker spot goes to junior Scott Arellano, a junior who replaces the highly-successful Riley Stephenson. The punter Stephenson was the 12th man of the defense, often flipping field position to help the D keep teeing up despite poor performances from the offense. The punter spot truly comes with big shoes to fill.
Another area of interest is the deep snapper, where ol' reliable Reed Hornung has moved on. Senior Kevin O'Mary is listed as the replacement. Hornung was so reliable that deep snapper was never given a thought for the last few seasons. Dads, teach your kids to be deep snappers.
J.D. Falslev is listed as kick returner, punt returner, and holder. Falslev earned his spot on the team (and a scholarship) because of his solid punt returning as a freshman those many years ago, but I hope to see some dynamics from the kickoff return team. Falslev's patience served him well in kick returns too, but I long for the day of a game-breaker fielding kicks again. California recruit Michael Davis is this year's speedster prospect, finishing seventh in the state in either the 100 meters (10.67) or 200 meters (21.4) -- the lack of clarity in his signing day bio leaves that a mystery. Will this finally be the year a fast freshman can impact the kick return game?