BYU football fall practice position preview: the offensive backs

By Brandon Gurney, Deseret News

Published: Sun, July 27, 2014, 10:10 a.m. MDT

 Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) hands off to Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) hands off to Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

(Matt Gade, Deseret News)

PROVO — BYU looks locked and loaded in the offensive backfield as it gets ready for fall practices. Optimism abounds, and with good reason, with the return of starting quarterback Taysom Hill along with the top four running backs from last season.

Last season, the Cougar backs ran for a stellar 5.2 yards per rush despite running behind a largely inexperienced offensive line. With all major running backs and offensive linemen returning, it's very reasonable to expect even greater returns in the ground game this year.

Hill also appears poised to make good strides in the passing game. He'll likely receive better protection and better pass protection to work behind in order to improve on his 2013 season pass efficiency rating of 118.15.

Returning experience

As mentioned, the offensive backfield returns a wealth of experience starting with junior quarterback Taysom Hill (6-2, 221.) The experience behind Hill is minimal, however, which puts Hill's health at a premium.

Coaches have placed a lot of faith in senior Christian Stewart (6-2, 201), who will start the practice session as Hill's primary backup. Stewart isn't the runner Hill is, but presents that same dual-threat quality to keep opposing defenses off-balance.

Junior Jamaal Williams (6-0, 200), and his 2,008 career rushing yards, leads the way for the running backs. He'll be joined by senior Paul Lasike (6-0, 227) and sophomore Algernon Brown (6-1, 219) as the three running backs on top of the rotation at the start of fall practices. Junior Adam Hine (6-1, 202) will round out the two-deep roster at running back at the start of camp.

Key additions

Those looking to break into the rotation this fall will be hard-pressed to break into the two-deep roster, but hey, that's what the month-long practice session is for.

At quarterback, coaches will welcome the addition of true freshmen Hayden Griffitts (6-1, 195), Hunter Moore (6-2, 190) and McCoy Hill (6-5, 230.) All three players likely won't be alloted many reps, but it will certainly be worth noting each player's development throughout preseason practices and into the regular season.

Those looking to make an impact at running back include a slew of walk-ons, including juniors Jeremiah Burr (6-0, 200) and Nate Carter (5-9, 185.) Carter was a standout during spring and should see plenty of reps throughout the August practice session. True freshman Marcus Case (6-0, 200) will also attempt to make an impact.

Sophomore AJ Moore (5-9, 195) is recently returned from mission service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and will compete for playing time this fall.

Dark horse

Running backs coach Mark Atuaia mentioned his top "three guys" as being Jamaal Williams, Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown during media days, but don't count out Adam Hine.

Hine mostly started on kick return last season, and will likely do so again, but when he saw time at running back, he impressed. The talented Snow Canyon product rushed just 38 times last season but netted 224 yards and scored a touchdown.

Hine has some ground to make up but has enough athleticism and upside to become one of Atuaia's "three guys" at the end of fall practices.

General outlook

The outlook is a rosy one for all offensive backfield spots which return the services of two of the most dynamic offensive players (Hill and Williams) in BYU history. With the backups to both players relatively secure in their spots, don't look for much turnover on the established two-deep roster out of spring practices or at the other running back spot opposite Williams.

The story of fall practices for the offensive backfield is how the established players will improve. For Hill, it's all about his improvement as a pocket passer while Williams, and the other RBs will work to improve their pass protection and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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1. Common-Tator
Saint Paul, MN,
July 27, 2014

While O-back performance is all based on O-line performance, both of these areas look incredibly good. A few years back I asked my young 8-year-old where he would start if he had to build a championship football team. He pondered for a moment, then said "Offensive Line." That was a fairly poignant statement.

An excellent O-line makes an average QB or RB good. They make good ones great. And of course, when you can platoon a squad of quick, punishing running backs and linemen, keeping them fresh throughout, that bodes for something quite special.

Here's to hoping this pans out well for the 2014 Cougs.

2. Taysom4Heisman
Heber City, UT,
July 27, 2014

I am very optimistic about the offensive backfield.

This is the only position that has proven players across the board, including proven backups.

The running backs are incredibly deep and talented, and will definitely be outstanding again this year.

Taysom is awesome. Needs to work on the passing game, but I think we will see improvement. And if he goes down, I think Christian Stewart will keep the offense moving. He is nowhere near the threat that Hill is, but I don't see the season falling apart with Stewart.

3. Down under
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 27, 2014

The Couga will roll on offense this year and the defense will be equally good or better.

4. CougFaninTX
Frisco, TX,
July 27, 2014

I'm hoping Hill doesn't rush for 1,000+ yards this season, not because he can't, but because we have so many talented RBs. I hope we rely on them a little more and Hill a little less. While I don't want to thwart Hill's style, 500 yard season for Hill would be a success.

Williams is already known as a great RB. Another 1,000 yard season would put him in the conversation of greatest RBs at BYU. If he stays healthy, it should happen.

I would like to see the RBs catch the ball out of the backfield more. Hill can gain confidence and respect as a great passer by throwing more 0 - 15 yard passes. Steve Young was never known as a QB who could put the ball on the numbers 50 yards down field. He made his living at BYU and the 49ers we a lot of short passes.

There hasn't been a lot of attention given to who will return punts. I'd like to see Hine excel at this also. I don't see that there's that much difference between returning kick offs and punts.

5. GJ
Greenwood, IN,
July 27, 2014

There is a significant difference between returning punts and kickoffs. Difference number one is the lack of blocking in front of you. Even if you have team members running back to block, they will be unable to establish the same level of protection that you would expect on a kickoff return. Difference number two is reaction time. With punt returns you have very little time between catching the ball and having to dodge a would be tackler. That's one reason the shifty players like J.D. Falslev have excelled as punt returners. Hine is more of a straight line runner, which works better for kickoff returns