Passing game in 2013 expected to improve

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BYU football has relied on its running game the past few seasons to move the offense down the field. But BYU’s passing targets should change that this year, creating an explosive offensive attack.

Tight end Kaneakua Friel runs the ball into the endzone for a touchdown against WSU last season
Tight end Kaneakua Friel runs the ball into the endzone for a touchdown against WSU last season. (Photo by Jamison Metzger)

BYU returns its top receivers from last year, senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman and senior tight end Kaneakua Friel.

Hoffman has 203 receptions, 2718 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns in his BYU career, and is on the cusp of breaking multiple school receiving records set by former star receiver, Austin Collie. Hoffman only needs 19 more receptions, 538 receiving yards and three touchdowns to break Collie’s records. The records are all reachable based on Hoffman’s production so far, but he is trying not to focus on it too much.

“It’s all within grasp. I’m not really going to think about it. I’m just going to go out there and play my game,” Hoffman said. “If I break the records, then I do, that’s great. If I don’t, I just know I want to be out there putting on for my team and doing the best I can.”

The tight end position has been looking for the next go-to tight end since the departures of Dennis Pitta, Andrew George and Jonny Harline. Friel looks to be that guy this season. He is coming off a season in which he caught 30 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns.

The past two seasons have not seen the type of production expected from BYU tight ends. The return of offensive coordinator Robert Anae should change that, as tight ends play a big role in the passing game for Anae. Pitta, George and Harline all found success in Anae’s offense.

Friel has the size, at 6’5” and 250 pounds, and skill set to make it happen. There is a reason why some NFL scouts currently have him as possibly being an early to mid-round draft pick. He’s big, has good quickness and good hands for the position.

The bigger question for BYU’s receivers is who will step up alongside Cody Hoffman. He has been the go-to receiver on third downs, first downs, red zone and most other situations for the past two seasons, and he will need support this season.

Ross Apo was a highly touted receiver coming out of Texas in high school, but he has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent quarterback play since he joined BYU in 2010. Wide receiver coach, Guy Holliday, thinks he’s ready for a big year.

“Players mature at different times. I think Ross is doing good. … I think a lot of the pressure of being highly recruited in what people think and some of the negative feedback that can break anybody’s confidence,” Holliday said. “My goal is to get him started fast and to play well and have his confidence up and we’ll go there.”

Senior Skyler Ridley impressed coaches in the spring game and was slated as the starting receiver opposite Cody Hoffman on the end of spring depth chart. He is a player that should see good playing time, as well as push Apo and other receivers for touches on offense.

Senior wide receiver JD Falslev will return as the slot receiver for BYU, along with possibly coming out of the backfield as he did at times last season. He caught 68 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns the last two seasons. Falslev will be important to strengthening BYU’s passing attack and giving quarterback Taysom Hill a reliable slot receiver.

Sophomore Mitch Mathews stuck out during spring camp. He is big at 6’6” and has impressed many with his athleticism. He currently sits behind Cody Hoffman as his backup.

This year’s receiving group has talent, but also has room to improve in order to become a complete unit.

“The greatest overall strength is their ability to catch the ball,” Holliday said. “What do we need to improve on? We got to prove we can get off press coverage and win over the top, the other thing that’s critical is that we need to be more complete. We need to be more physical in the run game.”

Holliday has stressed to the receivers that, along with catching the ball, they need to produce in the run game and help the running backs. If they do, it will help to open the passing game.

“Being physical and understanding the run game is as important as the pass game. Just being a complete football player. Just because you aren’t throwing the ball, a receiver can’t take a play off,” Holliday said. “Great players make great plays on both ends. When you score, nobody cares if it’s a receiver catching a ball or a running back making a 50 yard run. Well you can’t make a 50 yard run if you aren’t engaged down the field. We’ve got to have a team concept.”

Tight ends Richard Wilson and Devin Mahina will also be pushing Friel for reps, but both have battled injuries in their time at BYU.

Wilson had seven receptions for 102 yards last year, and has caught one touchdown in his three years at BYU. He was the No. 4 ranked tight end recruit in the nation and was being recruited by teams like LSU and Stanford coming out of high school, and the offensive staff hopes he can recapture that ability and become the player everyone hoped he would be.

If BYU’s passing offense does not reach the level everyone is hoping for, it won’t be for lack of talent in the passing game.

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