Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

Commentary: BYU football's way-too-early position-by-position breakdown (12 items)

By , Deseret News

Feb. 11, 2014

BYU's season opener at UConn is still 198 days away, and it's still way too early to look at where the Cougars stand at every position.

Right?

Of course it's too early, but with BYU's 2014 recruiting class in the bag and spring camp just around the corner there's plenty to talk about. For example, who will replace the likes of Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman? Can the offensive line finally gel? What happens if Taysom Hill goes down to injury?

Here's our way-too-early position-by-position breakdown for 2014.

Lafe Peavler is a sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.

1 of 12. Offensive overview

It's year two of offensive coordinator Robert Anae's "go fast, go hard" offense, so the BYU offense should get off to a quicker start than what happened at Virginia last season. Anae already has key pieces in place with Hill and Jamaal Williams, and he's landed a fantastic batch of wide receivers to help compensate for the loss of Hoffman and the other seniors.

The offensive line remains a concern headed in 2014, and the tight ends are far from what BYU's greats of old were. Still, there's plenty of room for optimism on this side of the ball.

2 of 12. Quarterbacks

Taysom Hill is BYU's undisputed starter headed into spring not only because he started all of last season. He's also starting because nobody else on the roster can.

The good news is that Hill is poised to build on his sophomore season. No one can dispute his ability to blow past defenses and rack up a lot of yards. His 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing give ample testimony of that.

Yes, Hill's arm still needs some work. However, he made steady improvement as the season progressed. After he threw just one touchdown pass in his first four games, he finished with 19 by season's end. It's doubtful he'll ever break any passing records at BYU, but with a bit more seasoning and work he can certainly become the quarterback the Cougars need to win double-digit games.

The biggest concern for the Cougars is what happens if Hill goes down for any reason this upcoming season. With Ammon Olsen gone to SUU, his potential backups are Christian Stewart and Billy Green. Both players have extremely limited experience actually running the offense. Throwing either quarterback into Robert Anae's "go fast, go hard" offense could be disastrous if something sidelines Hill.

In short, the Cougars need Hill to stay healthy. That will likely affect how the coaching staff uses him in 2014.

3 of 12. Running back

The Cougars are deeper at running back than on any other position on offense. Williams will remain BYU's feature back after rushing for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns last season. His speed and elusiveness are more than enough to place him on the top of the depth chart again.

BYU also has some decent backups. While Williams and Hill combined for 69.7 percent of the carries last season, Paul Lasike, Algernon Brown and Adam Hine all at least have some good experience.

Former rugby star Lasike will likely remain Williams' primary backup. While he's not as shifty as Williams, he can provide the Cougar offensive with a nice change of pace as he's solid in the power running game. Hine will likely remain BYU's primary kick return man, and he'll probably get most of his yards from that in 2014.

Also, the Cougars will have Iona Pritchard back, and he'll have plenty of work to do to distinguish himself from this already crowded backfield.

Overall, BYU doesn't have much to worry about here.

4 of 12. Wide receiver

BYU's biggest losses are clearly at wide receiver. BYU's top four wide receivers from last season are gone. Hoffman leaves really big shoes to fill as he finished his college career as BYU's reception, yards and touchdown record holder. BYU also lost seniors Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev, both of whom combined for 73 catches for 782 yards and five touchdowns.

Which is why the Cougars focused so heavily on recruiting wide receivers.

The nice thing is BYU's wide receiver recruits have more experience than players fresh out of high school. The Cougars have a solid pair of junior college transfers in Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon. At 6-6, Kurtz brings excellent size combined with a 4.5 40-yard dash time. Blackmon doesn't have that towering size, but he does bring a 4.4 40-yard dash speed to the table.

BYU also landed UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie. Because he's already graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, he'll be able to play right away. Leslie had 44 receptions for 612 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but more importantly he brings valuable experience at the FBS level.

And don't forget Mitch Mathews. Before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Wisconsin, the 6-6 sophomore had 23 catches for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Plus, Ross Apo returns and will hopefully start living up to his hype after catching just 14 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.

While BYU will have a bunch of new faces, these wide receivers have a tremendous upside.

5 of 12. Tight end

It's been too long since BYU has had a reliable tight end. This position used to be a trademark for the Cougars up until Dennis Pitta and Andrew George graduated in 2009.

The Cougars return Brett Thompson and Devin Mahina, but both of these players combined for just 19 receptions for 217 yards and no touchdowns. Part of the reason is that tight ends simply haven't been an emphasis of the BYU offense for the past four seasons.

But now that Anae has had a year to install his new offense, we could see more passes directed at tight ends.

The Cougars have two tight ends returning from their missions in Colby Jorgensen and Matt Sumsion. The bottom line is that tight ends still have a long way to go to live up to BYU's tradition and expectations at this position.

1. Jmoney34
Sandy, UT,
Feb. 11, 2014

Just noticed in the linebacker section that is says Preston Hadley when it should be Spencer Hadley.

2. idablu
Idaho Falls, ID,
Feb. 11, 2014

I am disappointed BYU did nothing to improve the O-line in this years recruiting. The tackles are just not quick-footed enough and get owned by just about every DE on decent teams. Did BYU try to get Barton from Brighton? I think he was a huge acquisition for the Utes.

I was a little disappointed in Kaufusi's performance last year. Moving him to OLB is NOT a good idea. Not fast enough. Especially when BYU just signed some really promising recruits at that position.

It seems BYU recruits well with linebackers but really struggles for quality D-backs. Just think what BYU could do with a couple speedy lock down corners who could reliably cover man-to-man. That is position Utah recruits very well, and that is the biggest reason for their success against BYU, IMO.

3. CougFaninTX
Frisco, TX,
Feb. 11, 2014

I think Lafe's analysis is fairly accurate.

I'm most confident with the following positions - RB, WR, DB (we will not have the injuries we did in 2013).

I'm most concerned about punter, OLine and DLine. I don't understand the decision to move Kaufusi from DLine to LB.

I'm most nervous about QB. I'll take Hill over 90% of college QBs, but I think there's a big drop off from Hill to whoever backs him up with Ammon gone. Stay healthy, my friend!

4. RockOn
Spanish Fork, UT,
Feb. 11, 2014

BYU did try hard for Jackson Barton, but his parents are Utes. And since offered as a sophomore he's been solidly a Ute commit.

The O-line will be better. Can't get worse. Please. But some of the D-line like Tuni Kanuch are slated for the O-line and some very good linemen returned off missions. Wesley, Kearsly and Matthews should be better this year and were fairly good last year. So I have some optimism here.

To the writer... too much of this was lifted from your last "too early" piece and was retread spice with a little -- very little -- new info. Keep digging.

5. Thid Barker
Victor, ID,
Feb. 12, 2014

All we need to know is BYU has recruited more Polynesian athletes! Life will be even better for BYU football. Who can argue?