Provo • Last year, spring football practices were all about installing a new offense at BYU. That was expected, because Jeff Grimes had arrived from LSU to replace Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator, and almost all of the other offensive coaches were also new.
This year, coaches will focus on building depth, and identifying which players have the physical and mental toughness to help them in the fall.
Practices begin Monday and run through March 28. As was reported Thursday, the Cougars will conduct their spring scrimmage on March 23 at Provo High’s football stadium because LaVell Edwards Stadium is undergoing renovations.
“We will do some things differently than we have ever done them before,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake told BYUtv last week. “It will cause a lot of our guys to be in an uncomfortable position. But we need to get them out of the comfort zone and into the growth zone, and the learning zone. And in order to do that, there is going to be a little bit of discomfort.”
Asked to be more specific, Sitake said players who normally have been reticent to speak up and become leaders will be encouraged to do so, after the 2018 team that went 7-6 and defeated Western Michigan 49-17 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl seemed to lack player leadership at crucial times during the season.
“We are trying to get as many leaders on the team as possible,” Sitake said.
As for having the spring game across the street on property that BYU purchased a few years ago for $25 million, Sitake said the school “looked at a lot of different places” to conduct the game before settling on what BYU is calling the west campus field.
“We will add some bleachers and try to pack the house,” he said. “We will try to make the best of it.”
Sitake said that sophomore Zach Wilson is “obviously the starting quarterback,” but reiterated that the Potato Bowl MVP won’t throw in camp after having shoulder surgery in January. Sitake said Wilson “should be ready” to throw when preseason camp begins in late July or early August.
The backup QB race is wide open. Passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said in February that redshirt freshman Jaren Hall (who is playing baseball this spring), redshirt sophomore Joe Critchlow, senior Beau Hoge (a onetime running back) and redshirt freshman Baylor Romney are the main competitors for that spot.
Sitake said former Orem QB Gunnar Legas will also be in the mix, along with redshirt freshman Stacey Conner and junior Hayden Griffits.
The coach said that Wilson has already been asked to mentor and teach some of the other QBs and players, much like Tanner Mangum did last spring when he couldn’t participate in the contact drills and scrimmages as he recovered from an Achilles injury. Wilson is especially good at preparing for games, Sitake said.
“It is a good opportunity for Zach to teach and learn as much as he can,” Sitake said. “He will be asked to teach his competition. … It will be a good humbling experience for him, and he’s all about it.”
New offensive line coach Eric Mateos will step in for Ryan Pugh, who left Provo after just one season to become Troy’s offensive coordinator. He inherits a solid group, led by sophomores Brady Christensen and James Empey and juniors Tristen Hoge, Kieffer Longson and Chandon Herring.
Defensively, the Cougars will look to replace mainstays Corbin Kaufusi, Sione Takitaki and Michael Shelton and several backup linebackers who had made that position a strength of the team.
The Cougars open the season on Aug. 29 at LES against Utah looking to avenge November’s 35-27 loss after leading the Utes 27-7 late in the third quarter.
“The experience we had in that Utah game last year is really motivating our guys to get ready for this year,” Sitake said.
KEY SPRING DATES
Monday • First of 15 practice sessions begins in afternoon
March 23 • Spring scrimmage at Provo High School, TBA
March 28 • Final spring practice
March 29 • Pro Day at Indoor Practice Facility
Note: All practices are closed to the public