PROVO — While junior quarterback Taysom Hill is the face of the BYU football program, his legs, and his arm, are expected to play a big role in determining how successful the Cougars are in 2014.
After a sophomore campaign that saw him throw for 2,938 yards and rush for 1,344 yards, Hill understands his role as a team leader and the catalyst of the Cougar offense.
“There is a pressure you feel to be seen in the community and with the things you do on the field and off the field,” Hill said. "It’s an opportunity that’s been fun for me. I love competing and I love throwing the football. I look forward to this upcoming season and do the best I can. Hopefully, I live up to the expectations and the things others have put upon me.”
Hill worked hard during the offseason to improve his passing ability — particularly his completion percentage — and his decision-making ability. He spent a lot of time building rapport with his talented stable of wide receivers, and he attended the Manning Passing Academy, where he was able to pick the brains of National Football League stars Peyton and Eli Manning about the intricacies of quarterback play.
“I feel extremely confident,” Hill said. “I didn’t have to worry about a knee injury or rehabbing that (during the offseason). I also have a year in this offense under my belt, too. I feel much more confident and comfortable in our offense and in my capabilities.”
Coach Bronco Mendenhall likes what he’s seen from Hill in fall camp.
“It’s not only the work during the offseason, but also the experience he had from a year ago,” Mendenhall said. “He looks really good to me and looks right on track.”
Asked about the difference between Hill last year and this year, quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said, “Just his familiarity (with the offense), all those reps he’s taken already. It speeds up your decision-making and your consistency. It’s all that experience that he’s picked up.”
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae also loves having a veteran quarterback. He added that Hill has improved his arm strength as well as his ability to make good decisions while orchestrating the offense.
Meanwhile, the BYU coaching staff also feels good about Hill’s backup, senior Christian Stewart, who received tons of reps during fall camp in order to prepare him to play in the event Hill can’t.
“I like him a lot,” Mendenhall said of Stewart. “Knowing how much Taysom likes to run it and not slide and try to run guys over, there’s a chance Christian will have to be called on. I feel good about him.”
Mendenhall added that Stewart has solidified himself as Hill’s backup. “That was one of the biggest questions coming in,” Mendenhall said. “He’s answered that in fall camp. I’m really comfortable with where he is.”
Stewart said he took the snaps for both the second and third team quarterbacks in fall camp. “It’s really not surprising,” he said. “We really haven’t had a third guy to take reps, so it’s just been Taysom and I.”
And how have all those reps helped his development?
“It’s been night and day,” said Stewart, a Snow College transfer. “Last year, I felt like I was starting to understand the offense but now I know what the offense is doing and now I can start understanding what the defense is doing. It’s really propelled my game forward quite a long ways. I feel like it’s starting to show, and I’ve been really excited about the way I’ve been playing.”
If Stewart is called upon in a game, he said he is prepared to meet the challenge.
“I’m ready to go. I’m excited,” Stewart said. “No one dreams of being a backup quarterback. I want to be out there on the field. I want to be playing, I want to make plays and score touchdowns. That’s what I do and that’s what I want to be doing at BYU.”
With an influx of receivers at his disposal and an offensive line that is expected to be better than last season, maybe Hill won’t have to run as much as he did in 2013 — when he had 246 carries.
Does Hill plan to run fewer times?
"It’s one of those things where we need to take what the defense gives us," Hill said. "So in our run game, it is all read. If they take the run away from Jamaal (Williams) or Adam (Hine) or whoever it is, then it is on me. So I don’t know. It would be nice if I could run less, I guess, and save my body a little bit. But if that is what they are going to give us, that is what we are going to do."
A year ago, it took the Cougar offense awhile to get going as it adjusted to Anae’s go-fast-go-hard style.
Now, BYU hopes to hit the ground running.
“We expect, on Aug. 29, to take the field and we know who we are and we know what we can do successfully,” Hill said. “We expect to execute at a high level.”