BYU Needs New WRs To Be Quick Studies
The BYU offense is expected to be improved in year two of Robert Anae’s “go-fast, go-hard” attack that he installed in 2013.
The offensive lines looks it might finally be coming together after being a weak spot the past few seasons, while the Cougars are about as deep as ever at running back with Jamaal Williams, Paul Lasike, Adam Hine and Alge Brown all returning for 2014.
Quarterback Taysom Hill showed this spring that the work he put in with former BYU star John Beck is paying dividends. The gifted runner has focused on developing himself as a pocket passer during this offseason in an effort to become a true dual-threat signal caller.
Just how much of a step forward BYU can take this season on the offensive side of the ball may hinge on how well Hill’s bevy of new, incoming pass catchers can come up to speed when BYU opens fall practice in late July.
During spring camp Taysom was unable to work with veteran wide receivers Ross Apo (6-3, 207 Sr.) and Mitch Mathews (6-6, 206 Jr.) due to the fact that both players sat out this spring following offseason surgery.
He did get some work in with a couple of wideouts who figure to be factors in the receiving rotation this year in Mike Davis and Nick Kurtz.
Davis has speed to burn, but he’s learning what it takes to be a receiver at this level after playing cornerback on the BYU defense last season. The injury bug also slowed him down a bit during the spring. Meanwhile, Kurtz, a highly sought after JC transfer, experienced his own growing pains in spring camp as he adjusted to playing D-1 football, as well as to BYU’s uber fast-paced approach on offense.
Both players looked like they were rounding into shape just as spring practice was coming to a close.
Because of the injuries to Apo and Mathews, and the time needed for Davis and Kurtz to come up to speed, a lot of Hill’s work in the spring was with reserves like Kurt Henderson (6-1, 180 Jr.) and Colby Pearson (6-0, 190 So.).
In the fall, BYU is expected to receive significant reinforcements to it’s receiving corps in the form of senior transfers Jordan Leslie (6-3, 210 Sr.) from UTEP and Keanu Nelson (5-11, 184 Sr.) from Stanford, former Oregon Duck receiver Ashanti “Devon” Blackmon (6-1, 185 Jr.) and freshman signee Trey Dye (5-9, 175 Fr.).
The big question is how fast these new guys can make the adjustment to playing in Anae’s break-neck system and how quickly they can develop chemistry with Hill. Like Kurtz and Davis learned this March, the learning curve can be steep.
With the departure of the security blanket that was Cody Hoffman, and the fact that Apo and Mathews have struggled with injury issues during their careers, Taysom and the Cougars could sure use a couple of the newcomers to step up and help shoulder some of the the load.
The most likely new receiver to come in and have an impact is Leslie. He’s the one guy in this group who has been very productive at the D-1 level, catching 125 passes for 2015 yards and 15 touchdowns during his time in El Paso. He was the Miners’ top receiver in each of the last two seasons.
Like Hoffman, Leslie is a big-bodied receiver who has been the go-to guy for his team. Jordan is faster than Cody was and on film he appears to be a little better route runner than Hoffman. The fact that he was coached by, and is very close to, BYU receivers coach Guy Holliday should help him adjust to life at BYU as a non-LDS student-athlete. It should also help him get up to speed in the offense.
If he can quickly get in sync with his new quarterback, Leslie actually has a legitimate chance to become BYU’s leading receiver in 2014.
Another player who may be able to make a significant impact on the offense this coming season is Blackmon, a former four-star recruit out of Summit High School in Fontana, Calif. where he was a teammate of Jamaal Williams.
Ashanti has gone through a maturation process that has seen him go from Eugene, to Riverside Community College, to Provo. He’s getting a second chance to launch his playing career at BYU and brings a level of speed and athleticism that the Cougars rarely, if ever, see at wide receiver. He can play both inside or out, but could see the majority of his playing time in the slot, replacing the graduated JD Falslev. He could also be a threat returning kicks and punts.
His adjustment to life in Provo could also helped by the fact that he has a close friend on the team in Williams, who has thrived at BYU. Blackmon comes across as being all business as he embarks on a new chapter in his life, and comes into the program with something to prove. Again, if he can develop chemistry with Hill this fall he certainly has the ability to develop into a dangerous threat.
BYU coaches have to be drooling over the prospect of putting receivers on the field with the kind of speed that both Blackmon and Davis possess.
True freshman Trey Dye is another dynamic player who will increase BYU’s athleticism at wide receiver this year. It’s difficult for a true freshman to come in and make a major contribution at receiver, however the kid is the son of James Dye, one of the most electrifying players in school history.
Trey played a lot of running back at Abilene Cooper High in Texas and flashed some of the same explosiveness that his father showed during the late 1990′s when he was the nation’s top return man. He’s great with the ball in his hands in space and figures to develop into an outstanding slot receiver who could also line up in the backfield in some formations.
Even if he doesn’t see a ton of playing time on offense in 2014, he could still make a significant contribution as a return specialist. Dye expects to play a year and then serve a mission.
Nelson, meanwhile, is the latest addition to BYU’s group of wide receivers, and is expected to add depth to the position. He saw very little action during his career at Stanford and lost his scholarship for this coming season.
Keanu was a highly-regarded talent when he came out of Sabino High in Tucson, Arizona. His college career hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, but a new lease on life for his senior year could be just what the doctor ordered. Like Dye and Blackmon, he could also become a contributor on special teams in the return game.
Again, how much of an impact these new additions can make will be dependent on just how quickly they can absorb everything that they will be faced with in a very short time frame in the fall. If a couple of them can step up to the plate and deliver, the Cougar offense could be poised to have a big season. If they fail to do so, wide receiver could turn out to be the weak link in another under-achieving performance by the BYU offense.