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BYU Football: Backup QB battle presents dilemma for coaches
First Published Mar 20 2012 01:15 pm • Last Updated Mar 24 2012 10:07 pm

Provo • A little more than halfway through BYU’s spring football camp, this much is evident when it comes to the Cougars’ quarterback situation: Bronco Mendenhall and Brandon Doman have a dilemma on their hands.

Sure, senior Riley Nelson is the unquestioned starter next season, if he stays healthy. No debate there.

At a glance

QBs in BYU’s spring camp

Player Year

Riley Nelson Senior Starting job is all his in 2012, if healthy

James Lark Senior Heaps’ departure makes him No. 1 backup

Jason Munns Junior Sitting out practice with a foot injury

Taysom Hill Freshman Stanford transfer has the tools to be great

Ammon Olsen Sophomore SUU transfer works as hard as anyone

Alex Kuresa Freshman Will leave on church mission this summer

McCoy Hill Freshman Switched to TE, also mission-bound

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But what happens if Nelson gets hurt and misses games, as he has done in his two previous seasons? The departure of Jake Heaps has created a puzzler in Provo.

Do coaches go with James Lark, although he’s also a senior? Or do they start getting another guy ready, a guy such as junior Jason Munns, sophomore Ammon Olsen or freshman Taysom Hill, knowing that the 2013 schedule could be as difficult as they’ve ever faced?

"It does put us in a bind," Doman acknowledged Monday.

Judging by the way reps have been divvied out in spring camp, it appears that coaches mean it when they say Lark is the No. 1 backup, and will be throughout the first half of the season, at least.

"I want to play our best players, and right now, James gives us our best chance to win if Riley isn’t out there," Doman said. "I have great confidence in James, and I am devoted and loyal to him. … But in the meantime, we have to get these other guys ready to go for 2013. And we will. We will have them ready."

That’s the tough part, Mendenhall said.

After saying before spring practice that the four-week session would be "so important" to Lark "in terms of maintaining the role that he currently has," the coach confirmed that Lark "has had a really nice spring. I think he has really helped himself this spring."

But Mendenhall also called the situation "interesting" last month and acknowledged there may come a time this fall when coaches have to start thinking about 2013, when Nelson and Lark will be out of eligibility. Even now, practices have been restructured to give the transfers, returned missionaries Hill and Olsen, more reps than No. 3 and No. 4 quarterbacks usually get.

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Munns attends practices, but isn’t participating in contact drills because of a foot injury, and can only watch as the strong-armed, athletic newcomers get better and better and learn the offense more and more. The one-time prep All-American from Kennewick, Wash., is looking like the odd man out. For his part, Lark says he understands the situation, but fully expects to be the man the entire season.

"Yeah, coaches have got to start thinking about next year, but at the same time, I think our coaches are all smart enough to understand that we will be in the middle of the season, and we have to focus on the present, too," Lark said. "I am sure they will start making some changes at some point. But I am not worried about them not playing me. I know the system. I have fought and battled for four years, and I am not going to let anyone beat me out."

Lark also knows what Hill, Olsen and Munns are going through.

There has been a logjam at quarterback since he arrived in Provo years ago, and every repetition is precious, he said.

"I have been in their shoes for a few years," Lark said. "I honestly think they have some mental frustrations coming. The quarterback battle is a frustrating time where you have to learn a lot about yourself, a lot about how to handle your emotions and how to handle yourself mentally. But they are both good, mature guys, and they will be just fine."

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