Has the BYU quarterback derby been whittled to two? Sure looks that way, although coaches not ready to admit it

It is looking more and more like a race between senior Tanner Mangum and freshman Zach Wilson

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU quarterback Zach Wilson runs through drills as the team opens preseason training camp on their practice field on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018.

Provo • With Beau Hoge having been moved to running back last week, most of the praise and attention in the BYU starting quarterback derby of 2018 has been focused on senior Tanner Mangum and sophomore Joe Critchlow.

Those two have the most college football experience playing the position, by far.

Mangum was the only quarterback made available at Media Day in June and was lauded by quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes for the way he dropped more than 20 pounds and earned the respect of his teammates with his efforts to come back from an Achilles injury. Critchlow is the odds-on favorite to start on Sept. 1 against Arizona, according to an offshore sports book, and assistant coach Ed Lamb called him the next all-time great QB at BYU while speaking to alumni in Cedar City a week before camp opened.

But don’t be fooled. It is looking more and more like the two main candidates for the starting spot are Mangum and the true freshman, Zach Wilson.

“We are still not [willing] to say anything right now [regarding the quarterback derby],” head coach Kalani Sitake said after Monday’s practice.

However, in the media viewing portion of practice Monday, Mangum, Wilson and supposed fourth-stringer Jaren Hall were the only quarterbacks who took snaps in the team (11 on 11) drills. Critchlow did not get any reps.

Critchlow was not his usual smiling self when he left the practice field a few minutes before the other QBs stopped working for the day. Let the speculating begin.

Asked if anything could be deduced from Critchlow getting no reps in the day’s final team session, Grimes shook his head.

“No, you can’t read anything into that,” he said. “We are putting different guys with different groups at different times and on different days. Like one day, somebody might be going with the first group at right tackle, or at slot receiver. And next day it may be somebody else. So we are just working on a rotation.”

Critchlow did get his share of throws in the 7-on-7 work later in the practice.

Wilson, who graduated early from Corner Canyon High in Draper so he could participate in spring ball, has sparkled in the portions of the camp that have been open to reporters, and has also looked sharp in other drills, according to observers who have seen all or most of every practice. He was made available for interviews Monday for the first time in preseason camp.

Arriving for spring camp “was the best decision I have ever made,” Wilson said. “Coming in here, I learned the offense the same time as everybody else.”

Friday, Wilson threw three straight outstanding passes to Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Neil Pau’u and Matt Bushman. Monday, he connected with Talon Shumway and threw nice balls that were dropped by Bushman and running back Riley Burt before nice tosses to Kyle Griffits, Dylan Collie and Inoke Lotulelei.

Asked where he sits on the depth chart, Wilson just smiled and shook his head.

“When [coach] says go in, you go in,” he said. “You take the plays you get and do as well as you can.”

Wilson also shook his head when asked if coaches have told the candidates the timetable to name the starter.

“I just focus on myself. I really don’t have much to lose,” he said. “I am 18 years old. I just come out and do me, don’t worry about anyone else. Just stick with the offense. Don’t try to do more than I am capable of doing and just let the coaches decide.”

Grimes said he still hopes to have some separation in the near future.“We are only a few days into practice right now,” he said. “So it is still too early to say. Ideally, we would like to be there at the end of two weeks. If we can be there sooner, great. If it takes a little bit longer, it takes a little bit longer. But naming the right guy is more important than doing it at a specific time.”

For the time being, it appears the Cougars have found their two right guys.

BYU camp developments<br>• Tanner Mangum, Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall got reps in the final 11 on 11 drill of Monday’s practice; sophomore Joe Critchlow did not.<br>• Former receiver Beau Tanner has rejoined the team and practiced at cornerback on Monday.<br>• Coach Kalani Sitake acknowledged that sophomore defensive end Langi Tuifua is not currently practicing with the team due to an injury.