BYU football fall camp preview: Young standouts on defense, monitoring injuries and a look to 2023

Here are 3 things to watch as Cougars camp gets underway in Provo this week.

(Tyler Richardson | BYU) | BYU) Defensive back Hayden Livingston (28) participates in BYU spring football practice, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

After an offseason of realignment and the build-up to its move to Big 12 next year, BYU will actually play football this week in Provo.

And here is the odd part about it: for all the headlines in the last few months, this camp might be one the quietest for the Cougars in recent memory.

BYU returns the most production in the country this year (almost 85% from a season ago) and there aren’t many position battles even open.

The biggest questions can’t begin to be answered until the games kick off next month. Can BYU chase another 10-win season? What type of year can Jaren Hall put together?

But fall camp will still provide some answers before Sept. 3 comes.

Here are some of the biggest storylines going into fall camp.

Can a young guy steal a job on defense?

There will be a lot of focus on the Cougars’ secondary. After Malik Moore, Kaleb Hayes and D’Angelo Mandell, there are more questions than answers for BYU back there.

But looking at the totality of the defense, it would be unfair to single out the secondary. There are questions all over for defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki’s group.

BYU defensive back Malik Moore, right, runs the interception he caught on a pass intended for Washington State wide receiver Donovan Ollie (6) out of the end zone during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The defensive line returns nearly every starter and they expect to be better than they were a season ago — still they’ll have to prove that they’ve made that leap. Looking at the depth chart, it appears Tyler Batty will be the guy BYU will rely on to put pressure on the quarterback. But even Batty, outside of a four-sack game in 2020, hasn’t been proven yet.

Theoretically, the strength of this defense is the linebacking core of Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili. Yet, even those guys are question marks now because of past injuries.

So this fall camp might be an opportunity for some players to become clear-cut standouts heading into Week 1. More so than any other place on this roster, this is an opportunity for a young guy to come in and win a job. Freshman Logan Fano likely would have earned a big role this spring if he didn’t tear his ACL. Can we see another Fano-like rise this fall? It certainly isn’t out of the question.

Look at guys like Aisea Moa or Fisher Jackson, both underclassmen, to make a push. And don’t overlook true-freshman Korbyn Green out of Oklahoma as well. It will be his first time with this team this fall.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds

Remember the rash of injuries last year? Well, they aren’t all healed.

There is still plenty of lingering injury news from the 2021 season, when BYU saw over half of its opening day starters fall victim to missing time.

Linebackers Wilgar and Pili are still working their way back from season-ending injuries last year. Both are expected to be healthy for fall camp, but it will be interesting to see how much they are actually used. Neither played in spring practice.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars tight end Isaac Rex (83) celebrates his touchdown over the Arizona State Sun Devils in the final minutes of the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

Same goes for tight end Isaac Rex, who is working himself back from a gruesome leg injury in November. He will likely be on a pitch count, so to speak, to start the fall, with the expectation that he will be a go for the season-opener.

The good part for BYU is that all of the guys still dealing with injuries know the playbook, and there are not major changes to the play calling on either side of the ball. But it will still be interesting for BYU to balance having these players healthy, against having them ready for the opening week in Florida, a place known for punishing players out of shape early in the season.

Maybe if the opening game was a warmup in Provo, this would be less of a concern. But in a humid, 4:30 p.m. opener two time zones away, BYU will need to be at its best health-wise.

Looking at the future

Quarterback Jaren Hall is BYU’s starter. But what about the backup?

Normally, a backup quarterback battle isn’t all that interesting. But this fall might be. The expectation is that Hall will head to the NFL after this season, leaving the program with an opening at QB for the start of BYU’s Big 12 era.

BYU will need to make a decision on whether the guy to replace Hall is currently in the program, or if there is a need to look into the transfer portal.

(Ryan Campbell | BYU) Jacob Conover attempts a pass during BYU's spring practice

This is why this fall for backup quarterback Jacob Conover is so important. This might be his final time to really audition for the role of the next BYU quarterback in front of the coaches. If BYU is going to go into the portal, it will likely have to make a move on that in December before next spring camp. And during the season, all the focus will be on Hall. So, if Conover wants the job he needs to make his mark now when he has the attention of the staff.

Conover’s spring was better by all metrics. He was a major recruit who has since dealt with BYU bringing other transfers to compete with him. But he won the backup position out of spring camp and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said he is much more mature this time around.

Can he build on it this fall?

Newcomers to watch

Anthony Olsen: A preferred walk-on, Olsen joins the tight ends group after flipping his commitment from Utah. With Rex’s status being monitored, there is a good chance Olsen will get significant snaps in his first training camp. If there is any place on the offense for a newcomer to break in, tight end would be it.

Parker Kingston: Another freshman with real speed, Kingston might not be an immediate factor in a loaded wide receivers room. But he is one of the faster players already on BYU’s offense. Could Roderick find a role for him in year one?

Korbyn Green: The secondary is where BYU could use some reinforcements. Kalani Sitake is high on the freshman out of Oklahoma, both as a recruiting victory and as a player who could make an immediate impact.

Aisea Moa: While Moa actually made his debut in the spring, this will be his first extended time with the team. A former four-star recruit, BYU is expecting Moa to eventually be a big part of the defensive line. With a strong fall, the timeline for his contributions could be pushed up to now.