PROVO — Despite the fact last year’s backup quarterback, Ammon Olsen, transferred to Southern Utah, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is comfortable with his quarterback situation heading into the 2014 season.
Junior Taysom Hill is looking to build on his 2013 campaign that saw him throw for 2,938 yards and rush for 1,244 yards.
One priority during spring football was increasing Hill’s completion percentage, which was just 54 percent last season. As BYU opens fall camp Friday, the Cougars expect marked improvement from Hill in that area this season.
“He’s delivering the ball timely, which means he has a much better idea of when blitzes are coming, when coverages are changing, what the nature of the protection is, and how fast the ball has to get out and to whom,” Mendenhall said at the conclusion of spring practices. “Just one more year in the system.”
“The biggest goals we set were completion percentage, anticipation and timing of the routes and the discipline of our reads,” said quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. “We finished off on a high level. I feel really good with where we’re at.”
Backing up Hill will be senior Christian Stewart, who played in one game last season and was 0 of 2 passing.
Mendenhall liked what he saw from Stewart in the spring.
“Christian Stewart will be an adequate backup,” Mendenhall said. “That question, I believe, has been answered.”
“Christian played really well this spring. It didn’t really surprise a lot of people because they knew Christian and how hard he tried and his capabilities,” Hill said. “He just didn’t have a lot of reps last year to show what he could do. He had an extremely good spring. If something came up, and, heaven forbid I went down for some reason, I would trust that guy playing and I would feel safe to say the rest of the team would as well.”
Beck saw improvement by both Hill and Stewart during the spring.
“I thought we did a nice job in our timing and anticipation of the routes and then throwing and catching it at a pretty good pace,” he said. “We were more consistent in our reads and disciplined with getting the ball off on time. I’m pretty pleased with the progress of Taysom and Christian.”
Also on the roster at quarterback during spring drills was sophomore Billy Green and freshman Hunter Moore.
Beck said that McCoy Hill, who was switched from quarterback to tight end before his mission, is expected to return to quarterback going into fall camp.
Overall, Mendenhall said the offense improved considerably during spring drills.
“Probably exceeded what I was hopeful to get done in the two areas of third-down conversion and completion percentage this spring. We targeted it really hard. I like the point of reference it gives us going into the fall. We haven’t arrived yet, but we’ve given it a lot of focus.”
The quarterbacks will have plenty of new targets to throw to in the fall. An influx of new wideouts are joining the program, including Nick Kurtz (a junior college transfer who participated in spring drills); transfers Jordan Leslie, Devon Blackmon and Keanu Nelson; and freshman Trey Dye.
They join a group that includes Mitch Mathews, Ross Apo, Terenn Houk, Michael Davis, Colby Pearson and Brett Thompson.
Although BYU has lost its all-time leading receiver, Cody Hoffman, this might be the deepest BYU has ever been at that position.
Kurtz, Houk and Davis all impressed during the spring.
“The emergence of some players at wide receiver, Nick Kurtz really impressed as he progressed through the spring,” Mendenhall said. “Probably the most improved and underrated player coming into the spring that helped himself the most offensively was Terenn Houk. He has been very consistent. I really enjoyed seeing what he was capable of doing. Michael Davis is still a little under-the-radar, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen there as well.”
Beck is hoping the offense will build on its momentum when the team reconvenes in August.
“We feel real good about these 15 (spring) practices, that we got better,” he said. “Now we’ll transition that into summer and into fall camp. If we can keep that improvement going into the season, we’ll be on schedule.”