BYU Spring Prospectus: Passing Game
BYU begins a new era today, as the Cougars kick off spring practice as a football independent.
Offensively, BYU begins this brave new world with significant coaching changes, including Brandon Doman taking over as the new offensive coordinator.
The Cougars passing game also begins spring camp with new offensive assistant coaches Ben Cahoon (wide receivers) and Joe DuPaix (running backs).
Meanwhile, longtime assist Lance Reynolds moves over to coach the tight ends.
The anticipation is that, under Doman’s guidance, the offense will look to take greater advantage of quarterback Jake Heaps’ abilities in the deep passing game. The ability and threat to stretch the field vertically opens up many things in the short to mid-range game for BYU.
Not surprising, Jake Heaps (6-1, 194 So.) begins spring camp as the starting quarterback. Barring an injury Heaps will maintain the starting job and is expected to build on a true freshman campaign that saw him begin to come into his own over the last few games of the season.
After enduring a tumultuous 2010, Heaps is now poised to make serious noise on a national stage with a veteran offensive line and plenty of young talent at the skill positions surrounding him.
An interesting question on everyone’s mind is what role Riley Nelson (6-0, 201 Jr.) will play.
It remains to be seen how much he will be able to go this spring after season-ending surgery in 2010. Many have speculated that he may switch to defensive back, however Riley has given no indication at this point that he expects to play anything other than quarterback. Doman may be wise to look to utilize Riley in a wildcat role and develop packages to help keep defenses off balance.
It may well turn out that the actual backup to Heaps comes down to a battle between James Lark (6-2, 202 Jr.) and Jason Munns (6-5, 254 So.). Keep an eye on Munns this spring, he returned just before fall camp last year and displayed significant mission rust. This year he should be ready to make a push up the depth chart.
One of the biggest surprises last year was the emergence of redshirt freshman wide receiver Cody Hoffman (6-4, 205 So.). He and Heaps began to develop a strong chemistry last year and the sophomore duo could become a terrifying combo for opponents in 2011. Hoffman finished the season as the leader on the team in receiving yardage with 527 yards on 42 catches, he also scored seven touchdowns.
All eyes will be on Ross Apo (6-4, 202 Fr.) this spring to see if the redshirt freshman begins to live up to the hype that has surrounded him since he decommitted from Texas to sign with BYU. Apo possesses extreme talent, but has been unable to stay on the field after shoulder and hand injuries slowed him down last season and ultimately led to the decision to redshirt him.
The prospect of putting Hoffman and Apo out on the field together as bookend receivers in 2011 is intriguing indeed.
McKay Jacobson (5-11, 190 Sr.) will look to rebound from what has to be considered a sub-par season for him in 2010. Big things were expected of McKay last season, but he struggled with inconsistency as the Cougars struggled at quarterback for much of the year and finished with just 410 yards on 37 receptions.
The former Texas high school 5-A Receiver of the Year has not been able live up to the promise the past two season that he showed as a freshman. Perhaps with the quarterback situation on solid footing this year, Jacobson will be able to put everything together in his senior season. If Apo becomes a starter on the outside, McKay could find a lot a space to operate in as a slot receiver in 2011.
Other veteran players that should make contributions at receiver include Spencer Hafoka (6-0, 200 Sr.), Rhen Brown (5-10, 180 Jr.) and Marcus Mathews (6-5, 200 So.), who returns to wide receiver after seeing time and showing some flashes at tight end last season.
Also watch out for Jordan Smith (6-4, 205 Fr.) who recently return home from his mission in Boston. Smith appeared to have a bright future during his redshirt year and is another of the talented, rangy wide receivers that BYU has targeted in its recruiting efforts the past few years.
Other options at receiver include JD Falslev (5-8, 175 So.) and Matt Marshall (5-10 172 Sr.). JD will also contribute again in the return game, while Matt plays an important role as the place holder in the kicking game.
An intriguing player to watch as both a potential receiver and running back this year is Drew Phillips (5-11, 168 Fr.). Drew redshirted last season, but made a big impression as a scout player while he was sitting out. He could see significant time in the slot as the offensive brain trust at BYU looks to find ways to get him touches in the offense. While it remains to be seen how Phillips will be used offensively, he most assuredly will play a key role returning kicks in 2011.
BYU also welcomes a couple of notable walk-ons to the field at WR this spring. Cody Raymond was a three-time Utah All-State receiver at Jordan High School prior to serving a mission, while Dallin Cutler is the son of former BYU star receiver Chuck Cutler and redshirted last year after returning from his mission.
No position fell off the map at BYU last season like the tight end.
Enter Lance Reynolds for 2011.
Reynolds will bring a solidifying influence to the tight ends after coaching the running backs for what seems like an eternity at BYU. Cougar Nation can rest assured of the return of the tight end in Provo in 2011.
The first item of business for Reynolds was to thin out the flock. Last season BYU played five freshman tight ends under former offensive coordinator Robert Anae, and none of them ever seemed to get into a rhythm. This spring begins with Mike Muehlmann being move to defensive end and Marcus Mathews moving back outside.
This year we expect Devin Mahina (6-6, 236 So.), Austin Holt (6-4, 245 So.) and Richard Wilson (6-2, 233 So.) to be the primary tight ends in Doman’s offense.
Mahina is a big, athletic target who is viewed as the player most likely to develop into Heaps’ go-to-guy at tight end. BYU can put some serious height out on the field in the redzone this year with Devin, Hoffman and Apo. Austin Holt is the best blocker of all the tight ends, while Richard Wilson has been productive in his limited action on the field.
Kaneakua Friel (6-5, 235 So.) returns to BYU this spring as well. Friel is another TE that has showed considerable talent, but unfortunately for the Cougars already used his redshirt season in 2007, thereby leaving BYU with four talented sophomores at the position.
In all, the Cougars should be formidable in the passing game in 2011. There is plenty of talent that should blossom this spring and produce much fruit this fall.
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