BYU football opens 2022 fall camp: Notes and observations from practice

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

BYU football is back for fall camp, beginning its preseason training period with initial meetings Wednesday and an opening practice Thursday in Provo.

“The guys look really good and prepared really well in the offseason,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “The camaraderie and the connection that they have and the leadership we have on this team is pretty evident.”

Thursday’s practice consisted of various position drills and concluded with an 11-on-11 scrimmage of offense versus defense, with rotating substitutions throughout the drives. With players not in pads yet, the scrimmage was much more relaxed with sparse intensity.

The offense didn’t do much in the portion of practice open to media, with quarterbacks Jaren Hall, Jacob Conover and Cade Fennegan throwing out of bounds more than to receivers in a stiff day one showing. Most of the work on offense came from the running backs pounding the ground or catching passes out of the backfield, with Chris Brooks and Jackson McChesney logging a handful of notable plays each.

“I liked that Chris protected the football today, and that’s all I care about,” Sitake said. “From what I saw from him, he did an amazing job today running the ball. All the running backs looked good today. You got to give a lot of credit to the veteran offensive line group, they’re opening the holes for running the ball.”

Linebackers Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili competed with the first team defense, both healthy again following season-ending injuries in 2021. Although limited as he recovers from last season’s leg injury, tight end Isaac Rex took some snaps with the first team offense, with Sitake saying Rex was “more involved” than expected at practice.

Other than those returning from injury, there wasn’t much else to look for throughout the scrimmage — BYU is set at quarterback and nearly everywhere else on each side of the ball, with its starters all but solidified in a nice change from 2021’s fall camp where seemingly every position was up for grabs in August.

“It’s really fun having a bunch of veterans because everybody knows what to expect when we hop in those big games and when we play that tough competition,” receiver Gunner Romney said. “Everybody knows what the standard is, and so I think holding each other accountable every single day to that standard really helps. We’re not going to be shocked to go in and play these big-time teams throughout the season.”

Arguably BYU’s most crucial veteran is Hall, who enters camp as the uncontested starter at quarterback rather than having to compete for his job again, allowing Hall the advantage of solely needing to improve himself rather than prove himself before kickoff in Tampa on Sept. 3.

“We can focus much more on specific play concepts we want to work on against specific defenses,” Romney said of having Hall as the incumbent starter. “It’s really fun having that connection already, that way we can start to tune up the finer details. We know what to expect from (Jaren), he’s a baller.”

Conover took the second team reps at quarterback as he had during spring ball, although he’ll certainty continue competing with Fennegan throughout camp for the role of Hall’s backup and possibly successor in 2023.

“Every guy in the room has been here and all five quarterbacks that we have are ready to go,” Hall said. “We don’t have anybody new. They’ve all been through the system. Knock on wood you only have one quarterback, and that’s always the goal, but any number of those guys want to be ready.”

Players absent from the fall roster included receiver/punt returner Hobbs Nyberg, reserve kicker Justen Smith and safety Chaz Ah You. Nyberg and Smith are expected to rejoin the team once classes begin in the fall, but Ah You was present and dressed at practice without participating, with Sitake saying he was still waiting to be medically cleared despite other rumblings regarding Ah You’s academic eligibility.

Roster absences aside, BYU will enjoy the benefit of a relatively drama-free preseason, allowing the Cougars to develop increased depth and solidify the remaining core of 2021’s 10-win squad.

“I don’t feel like we’ve taken a step back at all since spring ball and even last season,” Romney said. “Everybody’s already in midseason form, and everybody’s ready to go and so I think it makes it that much better than we have a whole month before the game starts.”

Stay tuned to Universe Sports and @dailyunivsports on Twitter for more coverage from fall camp over the coming weeks.

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BYU football is back for fall camp, beginning its preseason training period with initial meetings Wednesday and an opening practice Thursday in Provo.
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