BYU football: Running back depth an issue after Williams' suspension
Provo • At BYU's football media day in June, offensive coaches such as Robert Anae and Mark Atuaia talked confidently about the Cougars' running backs in 2014, saying the group was deep, talented and hungry.
The best group in decades, maybe ever, Atuaia said. Anae boldly predicted that junior Jamaal Williams would pick up the 1,488 yards he needs to break Harvey Unga's school career record of 3,455 this year.
After a couple of preseason training camp practices, however, there are suddenly concerns about that depth. Friday's announcement by Williams that he will miss the opener at UConn on Aug. 29 due to what he called a violation of the BYU honor code is just one of them.
Lost in the fuss over Williams' mea culpa is the fact that one of the other four backs expected to get significant carries this season, sophomore Algernon Brown, missed the first three practices due to academic issues. Media members were not allowed to view Monday's practice. A program spokesperson confirmed Brown did not practice, "but should be [practicing] soon."
The primary ball-carriers, aside from quarterback Taysom Hill, who rushed for 1,344 yards last season, against the Huskies will quite likely be Brown, senior Paul Lasike and junior Adam Hine.
Lasike carried the ball 59 times last year for 350 yards and a touchdown, but he is still quite raw because he came to BYU to play rugby and didn't play high school football. Hine was a spectacular kick returner last year, but he got just 38 carries for 224 yards and a touchdown as a running back.
What's more, Hine missed all of spring camp with an injury and there were concerns that he wouldn't be healthy by the time training camp opened.
The other running back in camp who could get some touches is sophomore Nate Carter, a walk-on from Dixie High who had perhaps the best spring camp of any BYU running back.
"Nate Carter is going to surprise some people," Atuaia said at media day.
Joshua Whippy (a rugby star who is trying to follow Lasike's path), walk-on Peter Welsh, and true freshman Trey Dye are the other RBs on the roster.
Dye, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound son of former Cougar great James Dye, was recruited as a wide receiver out of Cooper High in Abilene, Texas, but worked with the running backs the first two practices of camp.
"He is a quick, little, shifty runner, a little bit smaller than Jamaal, but I would say their skill set is pretty comparable," Hill said of Dye on Friday. "He is obviously not as big, so I don't think he will be able to have the power that Jamaal does. But I think where Trey will be used the most will be in slot, so we call it our H-back. He will be out there in the slot. If we throw it to him out of the backfield, then he could do that as well."
Fullback Iona Pritchard transferred to Oregon State last spring, while AJ Moore was on the spring camp roster but is not on the fall camp roster.
Of course, there is another player with Division I running back experience on the roster, but ex-University of Utah RB Harvey Langi has been practicing with the linebackers at camp. Many believe that Langi, the former Bingham High star and 5A MVP, is the best running back the state of Utah has ever produced. He ran for 70 yards on 13 carries at Utah as a freshman before an LDS Church mission to Florida.
Linebacker "is where he chose to play," coach Bronco Mendenhall said, noting he recruited Langi out of Bingham as a running back. "It wasn't until after his mission when he came home, and then set up a meeting with me, and said that [linebacker] is what he wanted to play."
Cougs on the run
BYU running backs in preseason camp:
• Jamaal Williams, Adam Hine, Paul Lasike, Algernon Brown, Nate Carter, Peter Welsh, Joshua Whippy, Trey Dye.
Note: Williams will miss the first game due to suspension and Brown has yet to practice because of academic issues.