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BYU Spring Prospectus: Passing Game

14 March 2011 Brett Richins 21 Comments

Jake Heaps enters spring camp as the starting QB

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.

Wide Receivers

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.

Tight Ends

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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  • Bryan said:

    Can we get some of this heigth from our WR’s and TE’s to help out our basketball team that is lackin in serious depth and height??

    Wow, Can’t believe the height that BYU has at the skill positions!

    By the way after watching James Anderson in the Conf. Tourney Final, I think Rose should yank his scholarship. I have played basketball with church ball players whom are more skilled and athletic and don’t have butter ont their hands during the entire game.

  • Greg said:

    I know families are forever, but is BYU Football forever, too? Going without for months at a time is killing me! I’ve even been seeing someone else (BYU Basketball) on the side and it hasn’t helped much… GO COUGARS!!!

  • Gorum the Old said:


    Not a bad idea. Anderson is painful to watch when he attempts to play offense, but I remember in BYU’s first game against SDSU, he had 5 blocks in about 12 minutes. Maybe coach Rose could tell him to not even bother looking for a pass but start possitioning for the rebound the moment the Cougars get the ball.

    The passing game could be scary with 3 legitamate deep threats the a rocket armed QB to match. Add in Drew Phillips coming out of the backfield and it could get down right scary, especially since Phillips would probably be covered (and I use that term very loosely) by a linebacker.

  • justin said:

    i am SO pumped to see jake sling it around to mahina, hoffman, apo, phillips, MJ, etc. i’m trying to temper my enthusiasm for this team but if the O can gel quickly we really could go 11-1 or 12-0. our D will be awesome and if we can score enough points against Ole Miss and Texas we might be 2-0 heading into the Utah game!

  • Gorum the Old said:


    I agree. This could be a very big year for the Cougars. They could very well go 12-0. The schedule is looking pretty good too. They have the 5 cupcakes at home, but then they have 7 real games that are all definately winnable.

    1) @ Ole Miss. Road games in SEC territory are always tough, but the Cougars catch the Rebels in a rebuilding year and match up favorably with them. The Rebels strength will be running the ball. They return all of their top RB and most of their offensive line. QB is a big “?” though. This works perfectly for the Cougars defense who enjoyed great success shutting down the run last (half)year and are breaking in a new set of DBs.

    2) @ Texas. This is clearly a rebuilding year for the Longhorns, but Texas has brought in top 5 recruiting classes from the time that people started rating recruiting classes. They are talent rich, but that didn’t help them too much last year. Add in 2 new coordinators and the Cougars could definately pull of a win against a texas team struggling to find its identity.

    3) vs Utah. Anyone on this board knows what this rivalry game is. While I don’t think Utah will be much worse than last year, They lost their top 3 RBs. BYU on the other hand will be significantly better. Play the game in LES, and that is a recipe for cougar success.

    4)vs. UCF. This could actually be the Cougars toughest game. The Knights won 11 games last year and finished in the top 20. While they do return a very dangerous dual threat QB, it was their defense that was the calling card of the 2010 C-USA Champion. This game is on a Friday. This will be tough on the Cougars because they have a very tough three games and have the added challenge of preparing for a mobile QB. On the other hand, UCF has to travel across the country and play in front of a large cougar crowd. If BYU gets caught napping, they could drop this one, but I think that they take care of business.

    5) @ Oregon St. If the Rogers brothers were going to return, it could get nasty, but Jacquizz declared for the draft and James Is still troubled by his injury and the jury is still out as to his gaining an additional year of eligibility due to injury hardship. Because of this, BYU should not have to much trouble with this game.

    6) @ Hawaii. Moniz passed for over 500 yards last year, but he loses his top 2 and 5 out of his toip 6 targets. Plus, there is no experience in the backfield. All of th returning RBs combined for a total of 8 carries last year. One man can’t do it all. BYU wins.

    7) @ TCU (OK, technically byu is the home team at a nuetral site, but I’ve never cared much for technicalities). For the past 2 years, BYU has shut down the tcu run game. The Horned Frogs will have a new QB and they will be facing a much better Cougar offense. I think BYU comes away with a win.

  • CaseyA said:

    Wow! Piling on James Anderson in a game about football. Truth is, James has some things he does really well but he is not a potential all conference performer at the D-1 level and unfortunately, that is all some people see.

  • Voodohound said:

    What happened to Meuhleman, the other TE? He was one of the primary TE at the beginning of camp last year but haven’t heard what his status is this year.


  • Brett Richins said:


    Muehlmann has been switched to DE.

  • J 2 said:

    There is a lot of height in the receiving corp which hopefully will be utilized properly. If we want height to recruit to the basketball team, look on the bench of the volleyball team. Two 6’9″ young guys that are coordinated and athletic, come on just for the tournament to rebound and block shots…. ; )

  • justin said:

    brett…you go to spring practices right? will you be doing write ups? (either weekly or daily)

  • Brett Richins said:


    Yes, we’ll be doing regular write ups…

  • Tim Heumann said:

    Brett, I heard this morning that Drew Phillips is not practicing right now due to being disciplined for breaking team rules. Is this something that he can recover from or is he gone? Just wondering.

  • Jeremiah said:

    Looking at the articles on Deseret News and Salt Lake Trib Drew Phillips actually missed due to academics, and is expected to be day to day through spring practice. So it looks like if he got his work done yesterday he may practice today.

  • Brett Richins said:


    Drew will be practicing as soon as he catches up on some things in the classroom. Should happen before spring practice ends.

  • Jared said:

    Bout Time!! Football is the only game in town. I agree with Greg. Started flirting with the other sport in town. Just isn’t the same.

    Love Jimmer. Think he’s awesome. Some of his performances have been amazingly incredible. But, it ain’t football.

    Last year we had a similar write up about how talented our receivers were, and that was one disappointing year as far as that goes. Hope it bears much better fruit this year.

  • Martin said:

    Great write up for the passing game. I have a few questions though:

    1) Why doesn’t anyone consider moving Riley Nelson to halfback where he can run the halfback option – run, pitch or throw? I like the idea of using Riley in some sort of wildcat formation except for the fact that it will tip off the defense as soon he runs on the field and Heaps runs off. Why not line them up together a few times a game and let them guess?

    2) Do you think Cahoon will be able to help Mckay Jacobson who as you say seemed to regress last season?

    3) Was the move to TE’s coach considered a demotion for Reynolds because he was replaced as RB’s coach by a younger, less experienced coach who happens to be a friend of Doman (another younger, less experienced coach)?

    4) Will Chad Lewis be able to help out with the TE’s? Is there any chance he will move from the athletics office to join Bronco’s staff?

  • Charles said:

    I am excited about BYU’s potential although I think they drop one or two of these tough games. It is hard to play at the top of your game every week. Regarding James Anderson, he doesn’t have the greatest hands and he is not very strong or athletic. But he does have a nice touch around the basket and he is 6′ 10″ with long arms. I wish Rose would have played him five or ten minutes every game during the year, especially when Collingsworth went out and he became the backup. We will need him against the big, tall, athletic front lines we will meet in the tournament. We don’t need him for offense, but he was in when BYU made their second half run and came within ten points of San Diego St. One forward and four guards won’t make it against the big teams. He just might make enough difference to get us over the hump. Go James.

  • detmer14 www.realfansstand.com said:

    One thing to remember is that we only have this arsenal of talent if they remain healthy. Remember Jacobson getting hurt last season.
    That could be where Falslev comes in handy. Don’t see him as a starter, he’s just not as tall as the other receivers, unless Doman can find ways of working him in. Maybe he’ll be good enough to take some playing time away from Jacobson.
    But Falslev should do a good job subbing in when needed. He could also be used for an occasional end-around play – the dude has the speed and agility necessary. Plus the OL should be blocking better this season.

    I wouldn’t count Texas out. In my opinion, Last Year was a rebuilding year for them. The new coordinators are definitely a question mark.
    But remember, we just had a huge shift in coaching as well, but we’re expecting it to greatly aid us. A coaching change doesn’t mean a team will struggle.
    I still view Texas as our toughest game next season.

    As for Nelson as a halfback – that was discussed last season. BYU’s offense will be complex enough with Doman throwing the wrench in a few plays.
    If we mix things up too much, it just causes confusion and you can’t focus as well on your true identity as an offense. Now, if the offense has be ability to run plays with Nelson well, then sure use him.
    But I just don’t see Doman calling many plays like that. Also, if you’re putting both Heaps and Nelson in at the same time, that means that there is one less decent blocker (both Heaps and Nelson) on passes, and also on gives to Nelson.
    That can be risky.

    Good write-up Brett.

  • Jim Tills said:

    It’s exciting to anticipate Cougar success due to their outstanding talent. MJ at the slot position with Hoffman and Apo running deep, Mahina and Holt or Wilson at tight end, Juice and Phillips in the backfield and Heaps at QB. WOW!!! Then change off and have Hafoka, Brown, Matthews, Jordan Smith or the talented walkon receivers enter as well as D.J., Brian, and other talented backs that can catch the ball, run, and block. There will be little drop-off in receiving.

    Just a note of some interest: I have been to all the spring and fall practices over the past two years when the public’s been invited to be there. I have been impressed with Rhen Brown who always seemed to make great catches in the practice games. Yet he has not been utilized in the actual games that count. I know he is smaller sized but that young man can catch like some of the greats in years gone by, and knows how to play the game! I personally hope to see him on the field more this year.
    As mentioned above, great coverage Brett. Thank you.

  • guitarperry said:

    I love the optimism shared by Gorum but I live in Texas and believe he seriously underestimates TEXAS. Just to give you a little idea of how popular the University of Texas is and how much money they have. You can go into any gas station in the entire state of Texas and buy University of Texas clothing. Do you know how big Texas is and how many gas stations there are? You can also get UT clothing in every walmart and every mall in the state, also every grocery and sporting goods store. UT must make more money on clothing in one year than BYU will make on it’s entire ESPN contract. They have the best players money can buy also coaches and facilities. Add onto that a huge and rabid fan base. I love BYU and Utah but its fan support is nothing compared to UT. I would love for BYU to beat UT and I will be up all night dancing if they do but do not expect a win in Austin.

  • Jimmerfan said:

    BYU’s passing game in 2011 might be one of their best in a long time! They have more size, speed, and athleticism in the passing game than any other season I have seen. They also have a great mix of experienced players and young, athletic players.

    At quarterback, they have two quarterbacks that can both run the offense efficiently. I definitely think Heaps is the guy to go with, but I haven’t felt this confident in our back up QB in a long time.

    At WR, BYU has two of the tallest and fastest receivers we have seen under Bronco. I would say the three tallest and most athletic WRs under Mendenhall are Hoffman, Apo, and Todd Watkins (2005). Cody and Ross are young as well.

    I’m not completely confident in the TEs. I thought somebody would step up last year, considering we had a huge group of tall and physical tight ends. Because they have more experience and the competition has mostly been narrowed down to three players (Mahina, Holt, Wilson), it should allow for these players to get more reps.

    The great thing about our passing game is that we not only have great players, we have young players. Heaps, Hoffman, and all of the top tight ends are sophmores, and Ross Apo is a freshman. BYU already looks like they are set for the 2012 and 2013 seasons in the passing game. Then you throw in sophmore Josh Quezada and freshman Drew Phillips in the running game, and we already have a dangerous offense a few years from now!

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