Provo • They will look to establish more depth and continue to instill the culture of going hard and going fast on every play that Robert Anae was a big part of pushing last year.
"Will over skill," is the offensive coordinator’s new catchphrase.
But the BYU Cougars clearly have a primary focus at this year’s spring football camp, which began Monday at the outdoor practice field behind the student athlete building.
"If we are looking at our program, and what we have to improve, [it would be] our ability to throw and protect [the quarterback] and catch the football effectively," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "So our pass game has to catch up to the run game, which I think it will."
Those plans were dealt a mild blow when backup quarterback Ammon Olsen departed in January for Southern Utah University, leaving the Cougars with just three quarterbacks on the roster.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae on Monday pronounced that senior Christian Stewart is the new No. 2 quarterback behind returning starter Taysom Hill, while sophomore Billy Green is the third-stringer. Anae said former Jordan High QB McCoy Hill is returning from a mission and will join the team in the fall and get a look at quarterback, although he was recruited to play tight end.
Hill and Stewart got all the reps in the portion of practice the media was allowed to watch Monday, and Hill said he is much more comfortable this year than he was last year when he was just learning Anae’s new system.
"It is a night and day difference from where I was last year, simply because last year I was learning an entire new offense," Hill said. "This year, we’ve added a few new concepts. But for Day One, I knew everything on the script. I feel really confident, really comfortable now."
Anae acknowledge that the starting point this year "is way, way further down the road" than it was a year ago.
That’s true everywhere except the receiver positions. Senior Ross Apo and junior Mitch Mathews return with the most experience, but they will miss the contact portions of practices while recovering from shoulder surgeries. Monday, junior college transfer Nick Kurtz and sophomore Michael Davis got most of the reps in 11-on-11 drills, Davis having moved back to receiver after playing cornerback last season.
"Those two today just got tons and tons of work and it was great," Mendenhall said, "but Taysom, the running backs, the tight ends, the offensive line, that part [of the offense] has picked up much where they left off."
Regarding the offensive line, Mendenhall said Tuni Kanuch has moved to guard from nose tackle, and returned missionary Lui Lapuaho and towering OL Jordan Black are newcomers who will give that unit unprecedented depth.
Mendenhall said red-zone scoring will be another big focus in camp, but when the Cougars have to settle for field goals, he doesn’t have a clue yet who will replace Justin Sorensen. Moose Bingham and Trevor Samson are still in the program, and Corey Edwards returns from a mission this summer.
"Just not ready to name anybody yet," Mendenhall said. "You gotta milk that one out of me."
Including Apo and Mathews, at least 12 players are still recovering from offseason injuries and/or surgeries and won’t participate in contact drills this spring.
The list includes: OL Brock Stringham (shoulder), RB Adam Hine (shoulder), RB Iona Pritchard (ankle), DL Kalolo Utu (wrist), LB Teu Kautai (shoulder), LB Matt Relei (shoulder), DE Logan Taele (foot) and DB Jordan Johnson (knee).
Team doctors discovered a blood clot when checking DT Marques Johnson’s health before camp and he will be held out until more is known about that ailment. Running back-turned-linebacker Mike Alisa was out Monday with a groin injury and is week-to-week.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.