PROVO — BYU has a clear-cut starter at quarterback in sophomore Jake Heaps, which is good news not only for the program, but also for its rookie offensive coordinator, Brandon Doman.
Things at the Cougars' spring practices are much different from a year ago, when Heaps, fresh out of high school, was learning the offense and trying to become acclimated to college life and his new teammates.
Now, Heaps has 10 starts under his belt and has emerged as a team leader.
"He's good. He's a leader. He's got a ton of 'want-to.' He can throw it around," Doman said. "The players look up to him and respect him now. It's taken some time, but they know who to lean on and who to look to. He's stepped forward to be the leader. Completion percentage-wise, he's as good as any quarterback we've had in spring practice. He's understanding the offense and putting the ball where it needs to be. The timing, decision-making and accuracy, all that kind of stuff, is proving that he will be a great quarterback here. That allows BYU to be really good, as we've seen in the past."
Physically, Heaps has matured as well, Doman said.
"He was going through a bit of a recovery through an injury. I don't know that he's as far along physically as he needs to be. But he's put on some weight and his body is maturing. He's 20 years old now. His strength gains are going up, his squats and bench and core lifts are improving. I would say that by August, physically, he'll be ready to go. That's the only part he needs to gain momentum in right now, is the physical strength and conditioning part of his game."
Having a quarterback with experience as a starter is a big deal during the spring, Doman added.
"Last year, we had a hard time just moving the ball. This year, we've been working on the fundamental stuff, building a foundation culturally for what we want to be and it's proven to be real profitable for us."
When the Cougar offense goes through team sessions, particularly two-minute drills, "I start salivating," Doman said. "We want to be able to run and throw the ball around. If we can combine those components here like BYU used to be able to do in the 1980s and early 1990s, we'll really be hard to stop. But that's an 'if' right now."
As for his new role, Doman credits fellow assistants Lance Reynolds and Mark Weber for helping him along. Reynolds, who served as BYU's offensive coordinator in 2000, "has been phenomenal. He's eased my stress and the burden from me. (Offensive line coach) Mark Weber has been great with the run game.. I don't have to focus a lot of energy on anything other than coaching. Then the energy and position mastery of (new coaches) Joe DuPaix and Ben Cahoon, I think have captured the hearts and minds of those players. The combination of all that has been really fun."
TUESDAY'S PRACTICE: Heaps completed 4 of 7 passes for 49 yards while James Lark was 2 of 5 for 26 yards and Nelson was 2 of 3 for 16 yards.
Running back JJ Di Luigi's 18-yard run set up a two-yard touchdown by running back Joshua Quezada, who finished with 10 carries for 49 yards. Running back Bryan Kariya scored on a 22-yard touchdown run. Tight end Devin Mahina caught three passes for 38 yards.
On the defensive side, safety Jray Galea'i and linebacker Uani Unga recorded pass breakups. Linebacker Jameson Frazier and defensive lineman Matt Putnam combined for a sack.