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Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014

Dick Harmon: Summer musings by BYU's Anae prove to have merit in fall camp

By Dick Harmon, Deseret News

Published: Sun, Aug. 3 11:46 a.m. MDT

 Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.

Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.

(Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

Back in June, BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae added two words to his mantra of go hard go fast: Go far. As in go long, or go deep. Or just go further than eight wins.

He spoke of stretching the field, forcing defenses to worry about more than covering the legs of quarterback Taysom Hill. And he said he believed they had added the talent to get that done.

This weekend, as the Cougars kicked off fall camp, it was interesting to observe that thought put to practice.

I was surprised at the progress of JC transfer receiver 6-foot-6 Nick Kurtz since spring ball; his chemistry with Hill is as one would expect with junior 6-6 Mitch Matthews.

UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie may not be as smooth as Cody Hoffman, but he’s more explosive, and his experience shows. Devon Blackmon is as versatile as advertised and has a nice burst to complement returners Ross Apo and Kurt Henderson.

Blackmon had a spectacular one-handed catch Saturday. Leslie made plays all over the field Friday and Saturday. Michael Davis, a DB turned back to WR, is the fastest guy on the team, and at 6-2 is a nice weapon.

I was surprised at how good Idaho native Colby Pearson showed. Stanford transfer Nelson Keanu, who, like Leslie, has one year to play, was an even bigger surprise. Overall, this unit looked like traditional BYU hands guys, but they were taller, more athletic and fast and were confident as bankers.

“It’s a work in progress, and we’ve got a long way to go,” said receivers coach Guy Holliday.

“It wasn’t as clean as we’d like,” said Hill of BYU’s initial practice. But he admitted it was fun to have fresh receivers line up and attack a secondary. Hill had his share of long bombs in two practice sessions. Several were of the John Beck-to-Todd Watkins type.

“Nick is a different receiver than in spring; Jordan Leslie knows what’s going on and he’s learning several positions,” said Hill. He called it “fun” and “awesome” to have that many targets, although this early, some route running was “helter skelter.”

For defensive leader and KAT safety Craig Bills, seeing receiver depth swarm the field in a hurry-up offense, is “exciting” as a teammate but a challenge as a defender.

“It’s awesome because those guys are making plays,” said Bills.

“It takes the pressure off Taysom and Jamaal to make plays. I’m not saying last year we didn’t have the talent to take pressure off them, but this year we have more, a bigger group who can take that pressure off them.”

Bills said the difference is obvious. “When you see guys coming in and a new guy like Keanu (Nelson) comes out and he runs great routes and he’s quick, you have to be on your toes and be ready to make plays. He’s a guy who played in a two receiver set at Stanford. It was hard for him to get [playing time] there but he’s a guy who comes here with a lot of talent, and its exciting.”

Hill said this depth gives BYU’s offense the flexibility to produce “one-on-one matchups all over the field.”

That’s an interesting way to put it. Then Hill doubled down. “It’s awesome as a quarterback.”

It’s early, way early, but to observers after two sessions of the Cougar camp, it is evident BYU has talented receiver depth. It's just not having bodies, but these are ball catchers, and Hill is more capable of finding them. This is an intriguing development, one Anae spoke of more than a month ago.

If Anae can pull off this deep-long-far thing at even a respectable efficiency, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see what opens up for Hill and his legs against a more palatable schedule this year.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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1. panamadesnews
Lindon, UT,
Aug. 2, 2014

Things are looking better this year for BYU. They have had a very good defense the last several years, now it looks like they may have a good offense also. If they can put it together on both sides of the ball, they may have a breakout season. At least I'm hoping so. Go Cougars.

2. idablu
Idaho Falls, ID,
Aug. 2, 2014

With all that talent at the receiver position, it looks like it will be a tough call to name starters and keep everybody happy. I truly hope that the coach relies on objective criteria and not play favorites. Unfortunately we have seen that that isn't always the case in college football.

In other news Jake Heaps has been named the starter for Miami in their season opener against Louisville. The heir-apparent, Williams jacked up his ACL and the next in line failed his drug test. That resulted in Heaps moving to the top of the position list. Good for him! It will be interesting to see what he does with a talented supporting cast.

3. Taysom4Heisman
Heber City, UT,
Aug. 2, 2014

I don't know where the writer got his information, but Michael Davis is 6-2, Nick Kurtz is 6-6, and Mitch Matthews is a junior.

I can't wait to see these wideouts! They sound like they are having tons of success against what is supposed to be a great secondary, as opposed to last year where they weren't very good against a depleted secondary.

4. Y Grad / Y Dad
Richland, WA,
Aug. 2, 2014

Be still my heart! Doesn't mean a thing till they bring it against someone else's defense, but this time of year, it sure beats eating junk food.

Go Cougars!!! Rise and SHOUT!!!!

5. BYU DUDE
Provo, UT,
Aug. 2, 2014

Go > "COUGARS"