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Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

Dick Harmon: BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae far more positive this year than last year

By Dick Harmon, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Aug. 7 7:44 a.m. MDT

 Coach, Robert Anae watches the offense as BYU wraps up their spring football practices Friday, April 5, 2013 with a scrimmage game for the alumni at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Coach, Robert Anae watches the offense as BYU wraps up their spring football practices Friday, April 5, 2013 with a scrimmage game for the alumni at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO — This isn’t the Robert Anae some are used to.

A year down the road from his sabbatical at the University of Arizona under Rich Rodriguez, Anae is at his core the very same man. But if you want to get picky, he’s not.

He’s always been pretty stoic, serious and cautious when talking to the media. He’s been exact in his coaching. He’s a tough guy who's demanding, a kind of perfectionist. He can be stubborn, set in his ways, and in the past he could be a mystery with reporters.

But on Tuesday in Anae’s first media appearance after four practice sessions of fall camp, he made a quick-step entrance into the football office lobby, where reporters awaited quote fodder. He came in like an energetic zephyr and quickly made the rounds with the media, shaking hands like they were well pump handles. He called out the names of the reporters he knew, and he welcomed the ones he did not. Wearing a cresent moon smile, he projected enthusiasm and sunshine. It was like this was a family reunion and reporters were missed cousins.

And that’s not all.

A year ago he was as cautious as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs when describing progress of this go-fast, go-hard offense. He spoke of it being a marathon, not a sprint. He said baby steps were in order as he got this thing going with five new coaches.

This week, he spoke of “a lot of work to do,” but he delivered it like a car salesman with shiny metal in the lot. “We’re a little rusty,” he said. But we’d all witnessed a lot of long bombs in two open practices.

Anae described his quarterbacks as “grip-it-and-rip-it” guys who are attacking downfield like javelin throwers. He described receivers as guys who can make plays.

When asked why he hasn’t used the word marathon this spring or summer, he evoked physics and the term "light year" to describe the distance traveled since preparation for Virginia in 2013.

"You compare us to this point last year, it's a whole light year ahead,” he said. “Can you run a marathon in a light year? You can run 8 jillion marathons in a light year. There's my answer."

And it's just not Anae’s demeanor with reporters — it's his offense.

I remember when John Beck and Todd Watkins practiced the long ball back in Anae's pre-Arizona days, but it was mostly done after practice. They hoped they could do it in practice and in a game if Anae would bend a little and allow them to try.

Now Anae has his quarterbacks launch often and he’s expecting receivers to guess the trajectory and get there.

Anae said a year ago he noticed some “fatigue” in the arm of Taysom Hill after throwing a ton of passes in practice. “Now it’s grip and rip,” he said.

Someone asked Anae about one-year transfer seniors Jordan Leslie (UTEP) and Keanu Nelson (Stanford), who he’s using as slot inside/tight end receivers. The old Anae would have said they haven’t proved anything yet and we'd have to see. On Tuesday, the response of the new Anae was upbeat, like he’d signed up new Amway reps.

“Hey, I think those guys are committed to the team and I really like their attitudes, wow. Those are top-quality dudes who are really competing and doing a nice job embracing the ideals of BYU. Those other guys we’ve worked with for years and years on that point, but these one-year kids have come in and embraced what the team is all about. They are way focused and they are prepared on a higher level, I will say that.”

And he did say that.

So, this is the new Anae.

He’s more than a year removed from his return and the installation of his new concepts; his four new offensive coaches have been to the rodeo. He’s got a veteran quarterback on watch lists. Defensive linemen are describing his offensive linemen as completely different men. He has receiver depth he’s never had before, and he’s closer to reaching a vision of what he expects out of that side of the ball. He is excited.

On Wednesday with pads, defenders slowed things down a little more with some pressure on Hill and backup Christian Stewart. But Stewart still used a blown coverage play to hit newcomer Devon Blackmon for a 60-yard score.

Anae? He’s more optimistic than we’ve seen him in a long time.

It’s as obvious as an orphan at Christmas.

No wonder he’s skipping into press conferences and going right for handshakes.

So, this is what a light year feels like.

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. eastcoastcoug
Danbury, CT,
Aug. 7, 2014

Sounds like Harmon is the one most optimistic. BYU NEEDS to be better for how awful we looked at times last year. An offensive line that couldn't move schoolchildren off the line, receivers who were never open, and a QB who never had or took time to set up and read. Just a hurry up offense. The game at U Va was an embarrassment, as was the Utah game (4th in a row). This is just more pre-season hype which we always get in August and by mid September, the air has gone out.

I will always be a fan, but I'm not high on this coaching staff and its ability to prepare or upgrade the team. We consistently hire mediocre coaches and play with a lack of emotion. With our facilities, investments and broader recruiting base, there is no excuse for our inability to step it up a level or two from where we were 20 or 30 years ago. Sad that we celebrate our high point in Cougar Football 3 decades ago without any BCS bowl appearances or an invitation to a FBS conference.

2. Frozen Chosen
Savage, MN,
Aug. 7, 2014

This year will prove whether the hard and fast offense is viable or not. Last year was a huge learning curve for everyone but the O should run much smoother this year.

Given their relatively easy schedule, I would expect BYU to go 11-1 or better. Anything less will be a disappointment.

3. blackattack
Orem, UT,
Aug. 7, 2014

BYU will always be amazing to Dick Harmon. I totally agree with you Eastcoastcoug. Our offensive line was so weak and it was clearly evident against Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

My excitement before each football season has waned after four years of mediocre teams (since 2009 season). We haven't been ranked consistently since that season and have not even been close to an undefeated season. We got a cute slogan last year: "Go fast, go hard" that was really, "Punt fast, punt hard." Now it is, "Go fast, go hard, go far." Why don't we put the emphasis on a concrete goal of scoring touchdowns?

As long as we recruit mid-tier athletes, and do not produce NFL-talent beyond one or two draft picks a year, we will not reach elite levels and BCS games, and that is if we even had good access to those bowl games.

4. 65TossPowerTrap
Salmon, ID,
Aug. 7, 2014

I'm going to be more optimistic than eastcoastcoug, but I understand his frustration with bad losses in September. BYU needs to win early and often this season.

5. LonestarRunner
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 7, 2014

I'm looking forward to an explosive offense and a lot of wins. If BYU can make it through September undefeated, this could be a very fun season for BYU fans.