Dick Harmon: Will BYU quarterback Taysom Hill develop into an accurate passer?

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 6:30 p.m. MDT

BYU's Taysom Hill is tackled by Utah's Jared Norris as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University play football Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Provo.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

The burning QB questions in Provo have reached bonfire height this week.

How fast can Taysom Hill become an effective passer (i.e., completing more than 50 percent of his passes)?

How long will he be in training?

How long will BYU’s offensive staff patiently work with him before considering playing backup Ammon Olsen?

With stud sophomore running back Jamaal Williams likely missing one to two games with a concussion and stinger, does BYU need to evolve with more passes or utilize different personnel and keep the focus on the read option?

And how much blame should be assigned to Hill, and how much blame should be assigned to the offensive line, receivers and play-calling?

Fresh off a 20-13 loss to rival Utah, Hill is receiving a ton of scrutiny — fair or unfair — for his accuracy woes during BYU's 1-2 start. His pass efficiency rating is last in the nation at 123. He is completing 37 percent of his passes. Although BYU's rushing offense is ranked No. 8, the Cougars rank No. 96 in passing offense.

The passing issues cannot be ignored.

Future opponents USU, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and perhaps others will take advantage of this and are very capable of doing it as well or better than Utah.

The challenge is big time.

In my opinion, for BYU to maximize its chances of competing and winning against quality opponents, the Cougars must have an extraordinary playmaker at quarterback. And that guy must be able to make plays with his arm.

That one factor allows BYU to finesse around obvious shortcomings and can be a great equalizer — or at least close to it.

Hill has had nearly two months of training under the tutelage of Jason Beck and Robert Anae, coaches brought in to elevate the offense. Yet, Hill and the offense had 30 incompletions against Utah. That won’t win games.

I’m not in the corner that says Hill should be replaced, albeit, if he doesn’t show progress, like any other position on the team, another guy should get a chance in fairness to the team.

And it's not all Hill’s fault. Coaches shoulder some of the blame for not preparing him. We are only half a year removed from two consecutive spring practices where the Cougars couldn’t scrimmage due to offensive line issues. Anae’s offense is going to go through growing pains. And Hill has had at least a dozen dropped passes by receivers in three games — some of them killers.

Hill is a uniquely gifted athlete. He is a team leader and is highly respected. He has phenomenal foot speed to get around the end or break one up the middle. He is big, strong and tough. He will never be able to do it all on his own.

But what about his skill level as a passer?

Hill has the arm strength. He does not have the touch or the timing.

Last week I asked former Cougar and NFL quarterback John Beck about Hill, whom he has thrown and worked with. Beck said Hill is accurate, but he’ll never be game accurate until he feels a great level of comfort in what he’s doing — trusting protection, trusting receivers and trusting himself. And that comes with time and experience.

Some forget that after Jim Harbaugh signed Hill out of high school to go to Stanford, he elected to leave the game to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a two-year interruption. Upon returning and transferring to BYU, he played sparingly as a freshman, underwent knee surgery, then had to digest a new offensive philosophy administered by a new staff.

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