By: Danny Holmgren
PROVO – Fall camp opens today for the Cougars. While kickoff of the Virginia game is still four weeks away, the opening of fall camp means that football is finally right around the corner again. It has been a busy offseason for the Cougars since their Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. As the biggest news from the offseason settles in and the team prepares to go to battle, here are four things to watch for in this fall camp.
1. Quarterback Taysom Hill
No one can be more excited to take the field that sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill. Since his season ending knee injury occurred against Utah State last October, Hill has worked hard with trainers and rehab therapists to make sure that his knee is in good shape. During Cougar Media Day in June Taysom reported that his knee would be 100% by the start of fall camp. The Cougar’s success this season hinges upon offensive improvement and Hill is key to that success. In limited action last season there were certainly flashes of brilliance and promise displayed by Hill. Whether that knee has fully healed or whether it has slowed him down a step or two, both physically and mentally, is something to watch for in camp. While Hill showed off some impressive speed, agility, and passing abilities last season he is still a young, relatively inexperienced quarterback that is still learning how to be a starting quarterback. How that knee responds and how he mentally responds to his return to the field and the change to Coach Anae’s new offensive strategy will be something to watch over the next four weeks and throughout the season.
2) How Offense Adapts to Return of Coach Anae, New Offensive Staff
With a number three ranked overall defense, one would expect to have a better season than the 8-5 record the Cougars posted last season. The sputtering offense of the last two seasons should come to an end with the return of Robert Anae as offensive coordinator (Anae 2.0), plus an overhauled offensive coaching staff. Some of the most powerful offensive teams in Cougar history took place during the 2005-2010 seasons when Anae was first offensive coordinator. After spending the last two seasons at Arizona, including the past season working with offensive genius Rich Rodriguez and seeing the Wildcat offense be ranked 7th nationally at over 525 ypg, Anae returns to Provo with more experience, more control, and a new offensive mindset.
Anae says that the key to turning around the offense starts with the O-line. An O-line the past few seasons short on talent and size, and depleted by injuries left Anae with little to work with. He started by hiring offensive line coach Garrett Tujague. Look, both Anae and Tujague are daunting physical specimens. These guys are huge and I for one hope that their physical prowess is representative of the type of personnel they look to put on the field. The John Beck and Max Hall offenses of Anae 1.0 succeeded in part due to the massive offensive lines that were protecting them. Excluding returned missionaries, BYU adds eight new offensive line recruits, half of which have experience playing in junior college.
Anae has said that he looks to transform the offense by deploying a high speed, fast paced offense that utilizes team speed, offensive playmakers, and simple blocking schemes. With playmakers like Taysom Hill, RB Jamaal Williams, and WRs Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo to work with, it certainly seems that Anae may be on to something. If he can pull it all together, this “go fast, go hard” offense will be a fun one to watch!
- QB Taysom Hill (knee): Hill and team doctors report that Hill’s knee is fully recovered and shouldn’t be a problem
- RB Michael Alisa (forearm): Alisa broke his forearm during the Hawaii game and missed the rest of the season. Reports this week are that the bone has not set right and that he is still having problems. Official reports are that he will see limited action during fall camp as trainers and doctors continue to rehab that arm.
- OL Houston Reynolds (achilles): Reynolds has not been cleared to play after recovery from an achilles tendon tear last season. He is retiring from football
- LB Kevan Bills (ACL): Recovery from ACL surgery has not gone as quickly as possible for Bills and he will not play this season.
4) Kicking Game
The kicking game, or lack thereof, potentially cost BYU at least a couple of games last year. Justin Sorensen, who looked promising as a true freshman, just hasn’t been good since returning from his LDS mission. Two new kickers have been brought in to compete with Sorensen and hopefully improve on the dreadful kicking woes from the past. One is Trevor Samson, a JUCO transfer from Fresno City College. The other is Vance Bingham, a recently returned missionary from Alta High School (Salt Lake). If all else fails, I’m sure that Kyle Van Noy can at least kick as well as Sorensen did last year, so we might as well give him something to do on special teams.