It was kind of odd to watch the last 30 minutes of BYU’s first spring practice on Monday and have to check the roster to figure out the names of those guys catching passes.
BYU’s three leading receivers from 2013 — Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev — are gone (although Ridley was checking out practice as well on Monday). Another receiver who contributed in 2013 before needing season-ending shoulder surgery, Mitch Mathews, also stood on the sidelines and watched, as did Eric Thornton and Ross Apo.
A three-sport athlete in high school, Mathews also took in BYU’s 20-3 win over Utah in baseball on Tuesday night.
In their places were guys such as Nick Kurtz, Michael Davis, Colby Pearson, Kurt Henderson, Terenn Houk and Brett Thompson (who is listed on the roster as a WR this year). That group and Mathews, Apo and Thornton will be joined in the fall by UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and juco transfer Ashanti “Devon” Blackmon, the speedster who signed with Oregon out of high school.
BYU signed just one prep receiver in February, Trey Dye of Abilene, Texas and son of former Cougar great James Dye.
Makes one wonder if there will be enough footballs to go around. Receivers coach Guy Holliday is going to be a busy man just keeping track of all those pass-catchers. Clearly, BYU moved away from the tight end position in Robert Anae’s offense last season, and only four are listed on the spring camp roster: senior Devin Mahina, sophomore Bryan Sampson, sophomore Brad Heap and freshman returned missionary Matt Sumsion.
Matt Bushman, a tight end from Tucson, Ariz., sign in February but will go on a church mission before enrolling.
I caught up with Holliday after practice on Monday to get his thoughts on what could be the deepest group of receivers in years at BYU, and what he hopes to accomplish with them in the next five weeks.
“I want to develop a comfortable understanding of where they are physically and mentally,” Holliday said. “Constant improvement, I think, is the key, so we can go into the summer with confidence. I think having success at some point this spring is really important. So we want to get a grasp of the offense for the guys who haven’t played, and for the guys who were here, have them step up and try to take a role in the offense like Skyler Ridley did last year.
Somebody will in this 15 periods of practice will emerge. So we will see who that is.”
Holliday said the group didn’t look great on Monday, and has a long way to go, but Kurtz and Davis made some plays. Davis is back playing WR after coaches needed him to play cornerback last year due to a bunch of injuries at that spot.
“They are still begging for him back. But he does some good things on offense, so we got to keep fighting the fight, hold on to him,” Holliday said, noting that Davis’ biggest strength is his ability to stretch the field with his speed.
“I mean, he can run,” Holliday said. “He runs well and he went and caught a post today. He does that really well. So he gives us, probably, as good as a vertical threat since last year of all the players I had last year. He definitely can stretch the field.”
As for Kurtz, Holliday said he had a rocky first day.
“Oh, he works really hard, but he got gassed today,” Holliday said. “He got introduced to go fast, go hard, and I think it was a little more than what he thought it would be. But he will be fine. As long as he always has a smile on his face, and he’s a hard worker, it is just an adjustment. When you are going at that tempo in a new offense, not only is there a physical wall, but there’s a mental wall. He crashed and burned today, but he will be OK, he will be fine.”
Holliday said the offense will naturally be behind the defense for the first few weeks this spring, and his receivers will need time to figure out the offense, much like he had to do last year.
“It is really about keeping the culture the same and pushing the envelope and I think we are ahead in some areas than we were last spring,” he said. “But not having Skyler Ridley and Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo, who all practiced in the spring — Cody Hoffman didn’t — that hurts because we don’t have — and JD Falslev — we don’t have the veterans that we had. But it is a great opportunity for the other guys to step up. So offense is always going to be behind the defense, and it is a learning experience, and so we will just keep pushing.”