BYU football: Cougars installing a new position: H-back
Provo • Coach Bronco Mendenhall ensured that BYU's offense will be different in 2013 when he sacked his entire offensive coaching staff last winter and brought back 2005-10 offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who had been learning a thing or two about moving the football from Rich Rodriguez at Arizona the past two seasons.
Much has been made about how Anae plans to speed up the offense's pace, running a play every 15 seconds, if that's possible.
When the Cougars take on Virginia on Aug. 31 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, many of BYU's offensive formations will also look different.
The so-called "H-back" has been introduced to the BYU offense.
Anae and tight ends coach Andrew George said the H-back will line up in the backfield, behind a tackle, but will often go in motion before the ball is snapped. The most likely candidates to play the position are stockier types who played fullback or tight end previously: Kaneakua Friel (6-foot-5, 261), Iona Pritchard (6-0, 232) and Richard Wilson (6-3, 245).
Bigger receivers such as Brett Thompson (6-3, 220), Marcus Mathews (6-4, 200) and Terenn Houk (6-4, 213) could also be used there, at times.
"It is usually a tight end-slash-fullback," Anae said. "We have had lots of fullbacks, lots of tight ends, and sometimes depending on what you are trying to accomplish out of the spot, out of the formation, you get a guy that can do both."
Mendenhall and Anae said there are plenty of those types of bodies already in the program, so finding players for the position wasn't difficult.
"There's the mover, blocker, play-action type and there's the receiver-ish tight end. And then there's kind of a regular tight end," Mendenhall said. "And those are three different guys right now. We have seven of them on scholarship, so I think we will be well-staffed."
The move to an H-back on selected plays could signal the end of the traditional tight end being a big part of the BYU offense, although there are times when a tight end and an H-back will be on the field at the same time.
Friel, oft-injured junior Devin Mahina and sophomore Stehly Reden will likely line up next to the tackle in tight formations that call for a true tight end, and the flex tight end position that Mathews mostly plays is still part of the offense.
"My role is going to be a little bit different this year," said Friel, who caught 30 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns last season as the starting tight end. "I am a little bit more in the backfield, a little bit more involved in blocking, making sure passes can get out and all that. â¦ That's not necessarily what I would like, but I will just go and do what the coaches ask me to do."
George coaches the position group, which also includes "inside receivers" such as returning starter JD Falslev.
"You can call them tight ends, slot receivers or whatever you want," George said. "I just want them to make plays."
Quarterback Taysom Hill says they will.
"Yeah, that [position] is new. It is a new formation for us," Hill said. "Coach Anae brought that with our new run scheme and everything else. It has been effective for us."
All Wilson knows is that the H-back position might be the one that revives his once-promising career that has been derailed by a shoulder injury and a major knee injury.
"That H-back spot fits me well because I can run out of the backfield, I can block, I can go out for passes," Wilson said. "My body type works there, because I can do a bit of everything."
Candidates to play new H-back position at BYU
Player Previous position Height/Weight
Kaneakua Friel Tight end 6-5/261
Iona Pritchard Fullback 6-0/232
Richard Wilson Fullback 6-3/245
Terenn Houk TE/Receiver 6-4/213
Brett Thompson Receiver 6-3/220
Marcus Mathews TE/Receiver 6-4/200