The start of fall football camp saw the return of a lot of familiar faces and a few new ones, as newcomers and veterans took the field Saturday, some ready to go and some still finding their feet.
Going into camp, no one is doubting the Cougars’ defense. Many are expecting the defense to be just as good as last year’s squad, which was ranked third in the nation. Some, including players, feel that the defense might just be even better than last year.
BYU’s biggest off-season story, however, is that of the offense. Assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Robert Anae wants to run 90–100 plays a game this season, and his offense will be put to the test on Aug. 31 when the Cougars take on Virginia.
“I can tell the guys had done really good work over the summer, that’s obvious,” Anae said Saturday after camp. “They did due diligence. Conditioning, we’re at a much better starting point condition-wise and much more familiar with the schemes and they kind of know where to go.”
Some players were not available for spring camp, due to injuries and not yet being with the team, which was evident to Anae.
“The newcomers and the guys that were hurt last spring, it is a shock to them. I’m not going to lie, it is a shock to them. I don’t think they’re going to want to hide the fact, it’s a shock to them,” Anae said. “Our guys that were out — Cody, Ryker, JD — they’re just now getting into this new thing. I’ve got to give the kids credit, they hung in there pretty good for it.”
Starting quarterback Taysom Hill continues to grow into his new role as a leader on and off the field. Though it’s a new role for Hill, he has used the off-season to show he’s ready for the task.
“It’s extremely different and I’ve been able to experience this off-season through spring and summer as we structured our workouts, our play run practices, and everything we did this spring and summer has transformed into fall camp,” Hill said. “It’s a different feel, I’ve got a really good relationship with the guys I’m playing with and because of that I’ve been able to talk to them if they’re not going as hard as they should be. They respond to that. It’s been a fun and unique challenge and I’m up for it.”
Though offensive playmakers like Cody Hoffman and Jamaal Williams are well known, newcomers like Mitch Mathews have continued to impress. Thanks to his large frame and good hands, Mathews looks to be a good red zone target for the Cougars.
“Mitch has worked hard. He’s transformed his body. After a mission that’s hard to do,” Anae said. “Austin Collie had that challenge as well, those first couple games, that was tough. He was fighting. It just doesn’t come back to a guy and I think Mitch has made good progress.”
Mathews may not make the immediate impact that Austin Collie made, but he is one receiver to keep an eye on this season. His production is expected to increase as the Cougars’ season progresses.
The offense’s success, ultimately, will hinge on the effectiveness of the offensive line. The Cougars’ front line may have been lacking in toughness and consistency in recent years, and offensive line coach Garett Tujague is focusing on changing that.
“They understand there’s a toughness and I told them today, every single one of them is in that room because they have a hard edge,” Tujague said. “To me that’s the most important thing, the most important thing because I can coach that. If you’re not going to give me everything you have and you’re not going to be hard at it then we’re probably not going to be married long.”
Though the offensive line is young, offensive tackle Ryker Mathews is not worried about their youth.
“They’re doing really good — surprisingly actually,” Mathews said. “I think most of them are going to have a chance to play. I’m excited. We’re young, but I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
BYU’s kicking game is another concern for fans and coaches. Returning starter Justin Sorenson performed well in the first day of camp, hitting all of his field goals. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall also plans to give the kicking game a renewed focus.
“We have a difficult schedule. We anticipate close games and we’re going to have to kick field goals and extra points to win,” Mendenhall said. “We have three kickers in camp and we intend to add more focus to it like we did today. There were three special teams periods today and you’ll see all the way until we play.”
If the Cougars can excel at the quarterback position and the kicking game and offensive line continue to improve during camp, BYU could have a special season on its hands.
Football action continues this weekend as the Cougars will hold a fall scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The public is welcome to attend the open practice and scrimmage at 10 a.m. on Aug. 5.