PROVO — One of the prominent storylines of fall camp so far for BYU has been the deep ball.
Cougar quarterbacks are throwing passes all over the field. Is this a preview of things to come this season?
“You'd better believe it,” said Mitch Mathews, who is part of a receiving corps that likes to refer to itself as "The Bomb Squad.”
“That’s something we lacked last year,” Mathews added. “That’s our strength, to go deep. We’re going to go deep a lot. We’ve been passing the ball a lot, which makes the receivers happy. We have a lot of good receivers and we’re having a good time.”
Yes, BYU’s quarterbacks — starter Taysom Hill and backup Christian Stewart — are airing it out during fall camp.
“They’re throwing a lot down the field. It’s nice to be able to take those shots when you have them and just give our guys the chance to make the plays,” said quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. “That’s what we’re trying to do with that new group of receivers — when it’s one-on-one, let them make a play.”
Though junior college transfer Nick Kurtz suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and will be out for six to eight weeks, the Cougars still have plenty of depth at receiver, which includes Mathews, Ross Apo, Jordan Leslie, Devon Blackmon, Colby Pearson, Terenn Houk, Keanu Nelson, Kurt Henderson and Mitchell Juergens.
“More weapons, more depth, more athleticism, more speed, more ball skills,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the receivers. “Now the consistency, the diligence and character and maturity to handle BYU and the workload to go with it will play out over time. But it terms of the athletic ability, that’s certainly there.”
Meanwhile, Hill and Stewart have improved significantly since last season when it comes to throwing the ball.
“I don’t know what they’ve been doing, but they’re doing a great job,” Mathews said of the quarterbacks. “We threw more balls this summer than we have in the past. They’ve made big leaps."
“I’m happy to see Taysom throwing a lot better than he did last fall camp,” said Cougar linebacker Michael Alisa. “Last fall camp, we were wondering what was going to happen because the consistency wasn’t there. He’d be really good one day, then the other day not so much. But this fall camp, he’s been whipping it, making good reads, noticing every little thing. He’s gotten a lot smarter offensively. Taysom’s working really hard to develop good relationships with all of the receivers, and there’s a lot of new ones, so that’s a big task, too.”
Even after seeing two backups transfer during the offseason — Ammon Olsen left for Southern Utah and Billy Green moved on to Weber State — BYU feels good about its quarterback situation.
Stewart, a senior, has received more reps than a backup quarterback usually receives in fall camp in order to get him ready in case Hill gets injured. Hill rushed 246 times for 1,344 yards last year.
“With the nature of offense that we play, even though Taysom is durable, even though Taysom is fast, is tough, the chance that mobile quarterbacks could go down at some point, you have to prepare for it," Mendenhall said. "It does alter your plans, so we are doing our best to make sure our No. 2 is getting more reps than normal in the event that happens."
Mendenhall praised Stewart’s performance during fall camp.
“He’s done a nice job. He’s more accurate, more decisive,” he said. “He’s certainly a run-first quarterback, but he’s done a nice job delivering the football thus far.”
“Man, we really like what he’s doing,” Beck said of Stewart. “He’s more similar to Taysom than last year, which is pretty nice because he can jump in there and do the same stuff. Stew’s had a great camp. He’s doing well and we’re confident in his abilities.”
What is Beck looking for Hill to improve on during the rest of fall camp?
“The biggest thing is just being consistent in his decisions and then being aggressive at the right time so that when we get the look we want, being able to take the shot we want to take," Beck said.