Provo • Lost in the speculation regarding who will be BYU’s starting quarterback on Sept. 1 when the Cougars open the season at Arizona is the feeling from coaches that the group overall is one of the deepest in recent memory.
“We’ve got some guys at that spot we can win with,” offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said at Media Day.
It appeared to be a four-man race when the Cougars broke spring camp back in April — and it still is, with a twist.
Freshman Jaren Hall, who returned from a church mission in June, has replaced Beau Hoge in the quarterback derby. Hoge was switched to running back the first day of preseason training camp last week and Hall has been given significant reps in team sessions of practices — more than most anyone expected.
Still, it appears that senior Tanner Mangum and freshman Zach Wilson have edged ahead of sophomore Joe Critchlow and Hall in the race that quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick insisted was wide open in June.
Roderick told 1280 AM The Zone that Critchlow and Hall “are battling just a little bit behind those guys” after Monday’s practice, in which Mangum and Wilson got the majority of the reps with the first-team offense.
Sources said Mangum has a “slight” lead over Wilson, and would be the starter if the season started today, but coaches are seriously thinking about not naming a starter publicly in order to keep Arizona guessing.
Coaches might inform the team of their decision next week to establish a leader for the offense, but tell them to keep it a secret.
“I don’t want to tell you guys it is set yet, but it is moving towards what we [want],” head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday. “You can probably guess on it a little bit, but I think we are starting to see guys emerge. We haven’t found a starter yet, but I think guys are stepping up and starting to improve.”
Wilson spoke to reporters for the first time since camp opened on Monday, and said he is taking a low-key approach to the quarterback race.
“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 anybody else. Just stick with the offense. Don’t try to do more than I am capable of doing and just let the coaches decide.”
Wilson turns 19 later this month. He has worked with former BYU quarterback John Beck at various times throughout the summer, and has a firm grasp of the offense.
“If you show the coaches you can do something, even if you were expected to come in and redshirt and not even play, if you show them you can do something you are always going to be in a quarterback battle,” he said. “ So you kinda just take every day [and say] ‘OK, I am going to give them everything I’ve got today, and just let the coaches decide.’”
Wilson said he’s developed a nice connection with his receivers through player-run practices in June and July.
“We have thrown almost every single day since spring ball ended.” he said. “All the receivers came out and our chemistry was awesome. So the connection we had, running routes on time, things like that. You know when they are going to break, which coverages they are going to be open on. We practice that all summer.”