Provo • Perhaps it was because it was the final practice of spring camp, and players felt like it was the last day of school. Or maybe it was because up to 400 former players were on hand outside the student athlete building to watch it, including some of the biggest names in BYU football history.
Then again, it could have been the way the offense moved the ball up and down the field, for the most part, in the 15th and final practice of camp.
Whatever the reason, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterback Taysom Hill all spoke optimistically on Friday about the Cougars’ prospects for the 2014 season, and were pleased with what was accomplished this spring on the offensive side of the ball.
“Collectively, as a whole, we got better,” Hill said.
Entering camp, the Cougars made no bones about the fact that they needed to get better offensively, and targeted two areas for improvement: third-down conversion percentage and completion percentage, after Hill completed only 45 percent of his passes in the five games the Cougars lost.
They also struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone, but believe that problem will solve itself if they get better in the other two areas.
“I do believe we took a step forward this spring,” Anae said. “How far forward I think remains to be seen over the summer and on through fall camp. In terms of progress, I believe we are in the making of developing our fronts, our front line, and improving there.”
Anae said the offense is starting another marathon — an analogy he used often last spring while first installing his “go hard, go fast” attack — but is more equipped to handle one this time around.
“This spring, we were able to move faster with the scheme,” he said. “There was familiarity with the players, and the expectations that have been set for a year have been in place, so I think all those things have added to our progression, and do feel like we took a step forward.”
Mendenhall, who still calls the defensive plays, said he spent way more time than usual this spring working with the offense, and liked what he saw.
“We probably exceeded what I was hopeful to get done in the two areas of completion percentage and third-down percentage this spring,” Mendenhall said. “Man, we targeted it really hard. I like the point of reference it gives us going into the fall. We haven’t arrived yet, but we have given it a lot of focus.”
Hill was sharp on Friday, connecting several times with junior college transfer Nick Kurtz and inside receiver Terenn Houk, whom Mendenhall singled out as “helping himself the most” of any player in spring camp. Kurtz started slowly, by most accounts, but showed Friday why coaches considered him the prize of the 2014 recruiting class.
“Nick Kurtz emerged,” Hill said. “This last practice was his best practice, by far, and he played extremely well.”
Asked about his own improvement, Hill said “the thing that jumps off the page” was his improvement on third down and his completion percentage.
“We began to click on all cylinders,” Hill said. “People took more ownership in their own positions, and with what they did individually, we got a lot better.”
Mendenhall, Hill and Anae said the offensive line, a perceived weakness last season, also made major strides, aided by the return of missionary Lui Lapuaho and the move of Tuni Kanuch from defense to offense.
“The ability to protect the quarterback is improving,” Mendenhall said.
As for the defense, the coach said the biggest question marks are at inside linebacker and safety. Nose tackle was going to be a concern, but Marques Johnson has been cleared to return to play after suffering a blood clot problem days before camp began, and Travis Tuiloma and JonRhyheem Peoples have had good camps.
“We have enough [safeties and inside linebackers], but in comparison to the other position groups, maybe one player away in both those spots,” Mendenhall said.
BYU wraps up camp
• Coach Bronco Mendenhall says the offense reached its goals of completing more passes and increasing its third-down conversion rate.
• Quarterback Taysom Hill says receiver Nick Kurtz, a junior college transfer, is the real deal.
• Mendenhall says the Cougars need more depth at safety and inside linebacker, and hope to find a deep snapper before fall camp.