Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — A lot of the focus on BYU's football team this spring has been on Robert Anae’s offense and what specific changes the new offensive coordinator is making to the unit.
Questions have been posed to a variety of offensive players about what those changes will be.
Each player almost invariably answers the same way: Anae wants to go fast.
Everything the offense has done this spring has been structured around an accelerated pace as the offense seeks improvement from its lackluster performance last season. From simple position drills to play-calling during practice-ending team drills, everything has been done at a higher pace.
“It’s tough, but it’s really good and it’s different than what we’ve been used to offensively,” said receiver Marcus Mathews. “The goal is to go fast in everything we do and we feel really good about what is going on with the new coaches and the new system.”
It’s the sort of pace the defense has been setting in practice for years. Since coach Bronco Mendenhall became defensive coordinator in 2003 the BYU defense has always set a rapid pace that the offense hasn’t been able to match during practice sessions.
In recent years the offensive pace lagged far behind the pace set by the defense and was made manifest during games last season. While the defense was achieving new heights the offense seemed to hit rock bottom.
This year the offense aims to make drastic improvements and to match the pace set forth by the defense — if not surpass it.
“In the past we’d look at the defense and say ‘Wow, we’re glad we don’t have to run that much,'” said running back Adam Hine. “Now they’re looking at us and thinking ‘Wow, they’re running a lot.’ I think they’re pushing us to a place we didn’t think we could be, but we’re getting there. Mentally it’s making us a lot tougher and physically we’re getting there.”
In order to operate at a high pace Anae has somewhat simplified the offense. According to Mathews the goal is to have a limited slate of plays, but include a lot of options off those plays congruent to what is presented by the opposing defense.
“It’s all pretty new compared to what Anae did before when he was here, but it’s not hard to grasp at the same time,” Mathews said. “We feel that the most simple things are often the most effective things. I mean, you can run basically the same play 10 times, but we’ll have nine different options off that play, so I love it. I feel that once we get this down at the high pace we’re aiming for that we won’t be able to be stopped.”
QUARTERBACKS PROGRESSING: The team has a lot of new faces calling out signals under center this spring, but Anae feels they’re coming together and progressing as unit.
“The quarterback position, as a group, is doing really well,” Anae said Monday. “Today I thought they took a collective step forward.”
Taysom Hill is still seeing first reps at quarterback, but the quarterback seeing next reps has varied. Christian Stewart saw second reps in the team portion that was open to the media Monday and was able to move the offense effectively due in large part to some great play from his receivers. On two separate occasions Mitch Mathews and Eric Thornton bailed Stewart out on under-thrown passes.
HINE IMPRESSING: The two top running back spots were expected to be assumed by Jamaal Williams and Michael Alisa, but Adam Hine has thrown a wrench into that assumption so far this spring. The sophomore running back has seen split reps with Williams with the first-team offense and is feeling great.
“It feels good,” Hine said. “One of the things that slowed me down (last year) was those mission legs and now that’s shaken off and I didn’t know if it was just in my head, but this spring I’m feeling a lot better.”
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