Jaren Hall throws a pass during a BYU football spring practice. (BYU Photo)

BYU football wraps up spring ball

BYU football closed out its spring practice period on March 31, giving Kalani Sitake and company a chance to gauge their offseason progress and determine further areas of need prior to fall camp in August.

“The team was not happy with how the season ended and we have seen that determination to be better in spring ball,” Sitake said. “The guys approached spring with a lot more attention to detail. We have a lot of veterans here and they have done a great job at getting our younger players ready.”

The Cougars are looking to earn their first trio of successive 10-win campaigns since 2006-09, and with the quarterback position solidified by incumbent starter Jaren Hall, 10 starters returning on defense and possibly the deepest offensive line in program history, BYU has enjoyed a solid core to build upon this spring.

“This team is very energy-driven and very resilient,” Hall said. “There are days in the spring season that don’t feel very good and series that seem off, so just being able to rekindle energy and quickly come back on the next drive is something I am very proud of. Everyone takes command of their job and holds each other accountable, and I think that alone has put us further ahead than last spring ball.”

Spring ball gave BYU its first real glimpse at prized transfer additions in offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia and running backs Christopher Brooks and Houston Heimuli, each primed to play a valuable role in BYU’s veteran offense this fall.

The enormous Suamataia bolsters an already elite unit on the line, Brooks’ violent running style left defenders helpless in spring scrimmages and Heimuli has quickly emerged as a vocal leader within Sitake’s trademark family culture in the locker room.

“When you get players who have played as much football as they have, it brings a lot of comfort,” Hall said of the new transfers. “Adding the new players has been great and we are looking forward to what they can get done this fall.”

While the Cougars likely won’t be able to replace NFL-bound running back Tyler Allgeier, who ran for a school-record 1,606 yards with 23 touchdowns in 2021, they may have the pieces in place to recreate his scrimmage production in the backfield.

Brooks has proven to be a legitimate backfield receiving threat, Heimuli and flex fullback Masen Wake offer a plethora of playmaking options, a healthy Hall protected by this bruising offensive line should be able to run with ease and other veteran backs such as Lopini Katoa, Jackson McChesney and Miles Davis can provide fresh legs out of the stable.

“Just the versatility that we have is great, and we can play so many different personnel groups,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said. “It’s probably the most personnel versatility I have ever had and we’re doing a lot of different things this spring that are pretty exciting, things we haven’t done before.”

With Baylor Romney’s retirement from football, Jacob Conover and Cade Fennegan have used the spring to audition for the role of Hall’s backup. Fennegan dealt with several injuries in the spring but improved throughout the spring with increased reps, while Conover did “some really great things” over the past month, according to Sitake, and should enter fall camp competition as the lead backup.

“Decision-making was very key for him, so I think just getting the experience of being out on the field and testing the limits will create the best result for the team,” Sitake said of Conover.

Losing just one starter on defense, spring practices have brought back past injury casualties such as Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar to headline a defensive unit looking to remain healthier and more firm than last season, where continuous injuries and ill-timed mistakes nearly squandered BYU’s victory at USC and eventually cost the Cougars an Independence Bowl win.

“This team is resilient, and these guys are tough,” linebacker Ben Bywater said. “A big goal of mine this fall is to make more plays and be a high-scoring defense. Interceptions, forced fumbles and sacks are things we are looking to do so we can turn the ball over and give our offense a chance to score.”

Despite the departures of veterans Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua, BYU’s receiving corps retains leading pass-catchers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney, while Keanu Hill has used spring to cement his status in the third receiving spot, and Kody Epps, Tanner Wall and Hobbs Nyberg took sizable steps forward as well.

Tight end Dallin Holker has appeared poised for a breakout campaign during spring scrimmages, which would be a great benefit for a BYU receiving group possibly without Isaac Rex to begin the season.

“In the receiver room, we don’t have new faces this spring, which is super nice because we feel comfortable, and we have already set our standards so we can hold each other accountable,” Nacua said. “They make up where I’m lacking, and we have a good group. I love these guys.”

As spring practices come to a close, BYU will use the month of April to get healthy before running, conditioning and getting in further shape over the summer, while also taking the chance to get together for unofficial player workouts.

“We will focus on school and make sure we wrap up the semester right, and then we’ll still find time to go out and throw,” Hall said. “We might be off from working with the coaches, but we’ll still find ways to get together and get our work in.”

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