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BYU Football: Spring Camp Storylines

2 March 2014 Brett Richins
Bronson Kaufusi will make the switch to linebacker during spring practice. (BYU Photo)

Bronson Kaufusi will make the switch to linebacker during spring practice. (BYU Photo)

BYU begins on-field preparations for the 2014 season with the start of spring practice on Monday.

The Cougars, who went 8-5 in 2013 against one of the toughest schedules in school history, begin a new year having lost a number of key players.

Among the losses are All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy and the school’s all-time leading receiver in Cody Hoffman.

The schedule is expected to get easier in 2014, providing a perfect opportunity for Bronco Mendenhall’s team to get back to recording double-digit wins.

In order to accomplish that however, important questions will need to be answered.

Here’s a look at the some of those important questions and key storylines to watch during spring camp.

Newcomers on the Offensive Line

There may be some help coming this spring for an offensive line that been a weak link for the program the past couple of seasons.

The most interesting addition along the line for BYU fans to keep an eye on over the next month may be Ului Lapuaho. The big 6-foot-7, 310-pound freshman will try to stake his claim to the starting left tackle position after returning home from a mission to Sydney, Australia.

Lui signed with BYU in 2011 out of Hunter High School in West Valley City, Utah and gray-shirted that season before departing for the mission field. Bronco Mendenhall is already calling him a potential All-Pro caliber talent.

Another intriguing development to watch will be the transition of redshirt freshman Tuni Kanuch (6-2, 325 Fr.) from nose tackle to offensive guard. The depth of talent on the defensive line allows Kanuch to make the move, which should strengthen an area of need.

He sat out last season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in August. At one point he was considered to have a bright future anchoring the middle of the BYU defensive line, but he was also known an outstanding offensive linemen prospect during his high school career at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah and was even tabbed as Mr. Football in the state in 2009.

Tuni’s switch should bring a much-need level of talent, toughness, aggression and physical strength to the offensive front.

Another new potential difference maker on the O-line this coming season could be Jordan Black (6-6, 350 So.). Black missed all of last season, including spring camp, while healing up from double shoulder surgery. The former Alta High star could provide help at either guard or right tackle, assuming that he is healthy.

Jordan redshirted in 2010 prior to serving his mission in Fresno, California.

Kaufusi’s Transition

Bronson Kaufusi’s move from defensive end to outside linebacker will be one of the most watched developments during spring camp. The 6-foot-7 junior has dropped his weight from over 280 pounds to under 260 in order to improve his mobility.

Just how Mendenhall utilizes him in his new role will be watched closely. One of the biggest questions is if he can cover opposing tight ends and running backs, although his chief responsibility in obvious passing situations will be to pressure the quarterback.

In 2013, Bronson was the starter at defensive end in Bronco’s defense, recording four sacks and seven tackles for loss. He also intercepted a pass against Idaho State and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown. His new position should allow him to pile up even more sacks, tackles for loss and picks.

If he performs as hoped, he will help to solidify a position group that lost a lot of talent and experience, including Van Noy, Uani Unga and Spencer Hadley. If the experiment fails to pan out, the Cougars may have to scramble a bit to find some answers in fall camp.

The Backup Quarterback Battle

With the departure of backup quarterback Ammon Olsen, the Cougars are looking for a new insurance policy behind starter Taysom Hill. With as much punishment Hill took last year, BYU was lucky that he remained healthy.

Because Hill is exposed as much as he is, it’s important that the program has someone that can step in and get the job done, just in case Taysom does goes down. The two candidates to battle it out in spring are senior Christian Stewart (6-2, 201 Sr.) and sophomore Billy Green (6-2, 206 So.). Neither player has completed a pass as a Division-1 player.

Stewart walked on to the program last year, following a stellar sophomore season at Snow College in which he was named as the No. 2 junior college quarterback in the country. Though he’s not Hill, he does have good mobility, which would allow offensive coordinator Robert Anae to continue to run his offense with few adjustments.

Green essentially burned a redshirt year last year when he played a few snaps against Idaho State. He has yet to even attempt a pass in a college game, although he had a very successful high school career and was twice named a first-team All-State performer in the state of Washington.

Mendenhall has gone on record that he will look to add another QB to the roster for the fall if the Cougars fail to find an answer at the backup spot during the spring. Both Stewart and Green should see a lot of reps during March.

Developing Chemistry Between Hill and Kurtz

The Cougars added three outstanding transfer wide receivers to the roster in February with the signing of Nick Kurtz (6-6, 205 Jr.), Jordan Leslie (6-3, 210 Sr.) and Devon Blackmon (6-1, 185 Jr.). However, only Kurtz will be available to participate in spring drills.

Nick has been enrolled in school since January and involved in workouts with the team, including working with Hill in an attempt to develop chemistry with his new quarterback. That work now moves to a new level with the start of spring practice.

He turned down scholarship offers from several name programs from around the country when he signed with BYU. His rare combination of size and speed was one of the main reasons he was so highly recruited. With the loss of Cody Hoffman, the Cougars need Kurtz to live up to his billing and that all begins with his play this spring.

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