Provo • Second-year BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer talks football anywhere he goes throughout Utah. As good-natured as a former professional athlete seemingly can get, the former Heisman Trophy winner obliges fans at restaurants, church and the grocery store.
He says the biggest question on BYU fans’ minds this offseason isn’t about the quarterback, experienced junior Tanner Mangum. It’s about the large group of relatively unknown receivers hoping to fill the shoes of the three leading receivers last year, who all graduated: Nick Kurtz, Mitchell Juergens and Colby Pearson.
Detmer’s answer: “They aren’t household names yet, but they will be.”
The Cougars have experience and depth at almost very other position. Receiver is clearly the offense’s weakness as BYU prepares for its opener Aug. 26 against Portland State at LaVell Edwards Stadium (1 p.m., ESPN).
Fourth-leading receiver Jonah Trinnaman (28 catches, 321 yards, 1 touchdown) is back for his senior year after a mildly disappointing junior season, and seventh-leading receiver Aleva Hifo (11 catches, 58 yards) is working his way back after missing spring camp with an injury. Fifth-leading receiver Moroni Laulu-Pututau (27 catches, 277 yards, 2 TDs) is now a tight end.
So who is Mangum going to throw the ball to as Detmer tries to return the offense to its roots?
There is no shortage of candidates.
The leading ones after four practices appear to be redshirt sophomore Talon Shumway, junior Beau Tanner, freshman Neil Pau’u and a pair of sophomores from Texas who redshirted last year, Micah Simon and Akile Davis. Others in the mix include converted safety Grant Jones, junior Rickey Shumway, sophomore Inoke Lotulelei and two promising freshmen from Texas, 2017 signee Tariq Buchanan and walk-on Chayce Bolli.
“They are really talented, but no one knows anything about them yet,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “I promise you they have a lot of talent, and people will know who they are.”
The depth chart coming out of spring camp listed Trinnaman and Davis at the WRX spot, Talon Shumway and Simon at the WRZ spot, and Hifo and Lotulelei at the slot. But receivers coach Ben Cahoon doesn’t really endorse those projections, saying his depth chart changes significantly from day to day in camp. That’s how close the battles are, but it also illustrates the lack of experienced returnees.
BYU’s top returning pass-catchers
Player • Position • Receptions • Yards
Jonah Trinnaman • Receiver • 28 • 321 • 1
*Moroni Laulu-Putulau • Receiver • 27 • 277 • 2
Tanner Balderree • Tight end • 13 • 156 • 2
Aleva Hifo • Receiver • 11 • 58 • 0
Hunter Marshall • Tight end • 7 • 66 • 1
* — Moved to tight end for 2017
“I want guys to compete every day, and then I will reward them for it,” Cahoon said.
Whatever the case, all the talk about the unit being the offense’s weak link “fires you up a little bit,” Cahoon said.
Indeed, Simon, Davis and Talon Shumway all said recently that they have a lot to prove.
“That’s about where we can leave it,” said Shumway, who caught a touchdown pass in Monday’s practice. “I mean, we can’t really take it much farther past that. None of us have really shown much. Jonah has. He’s our lone senior. Everyone else has something to prove.”
Simon, a former high school quarterback in the Dallas area, is having a solid camp. Recruited by Bronco Mendenhall and former receivers coach Guy Holliday, he played in just two games as a freshman in 2015 and was asked to redshirt last season when Sitake, Detmer and Cahoon came aboard.
“It was their call,” Simon said. “I completely trusted them, believed in what their vision was for me. It was tough at first to redshirt, but once I saw the vision, I just worked my butt off in the weight room and during the season and offseason. I definitely got better. Redshirting has paid off, for sure.”
Davis’ journey has been similar. The former three-star prospect from DeSoto High was recruited to BYU as a receiver by Mendenhall and Holliday. He played in just three games as a freshman, catching one pass for 9 yards. Sitake’s staff moved him to cornerback in the spring of 2016, then back to receiver last fall when they realized “I wasn’t the best at corner and was a more natural receiver,” Davis said.
Like Simon, Davis was asked to redshirt midway through the 2016 season.
“They definitely came to me about redshirting, and they talked to me straight up,” Davis said. “They said, ‘We want to redshirt you and have you for three more years.’ It was hard at first. I definitely had a lot of talks with Kalani, and he helped me a lot. It worked out in the long run. It was worth it.”
Cahoon said Simon and Davis took advantage of their redshirt years and now are ready to be major contributors.
“They worked their tails off, and it is showing,” Cahoon said.