PROVO — Throughout the offseason, BYU coaches have made no secret of their desire to employ a more vertical and explosive passing game this season. If the first day of fall camp is any indication, their goal might become a reality.
Starting quarterback Taysom Hill looked downfield early and often Friday — connecting on touchdown passes of 60 yards to Mitch Mathews and 55 yards to Jordan Leslie during seven-on-seven drills and then another 55-yard bomb to Nick Kurtz during team drills.
“That was a fun first day. We just have to keep it going now and get better,” said Mathews, who caught a short slant in stride before accelerating past the defense for his 60-yard TD pass.
Perhaps most notable was the immediate production of players taking part in their first BYU practice session, including Leslie, Devon Blackmon, Keanu Nelson and Trey Dye.
Veteran receiver Ross Apo noted all of them and expressed excitement following practice.
“I’m pretty sure they all scored today, so those are a good group of guys that they brought in,” Apo said. “It makes it easier for everybody — especially having Jordan Leslie run routes against a linebacker because it’s a mismatch pretty much every time, and it showed today. ... So I think it takes a lot of pressure off us having inside guys like that.”
While pleased with what he saw on the first day, receivers coach Guy Holliday was quick to note there's a long way to go.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Holliday said. “It’s going to be a grind. ... It’s really a process and this is going to go on and on and on and on. So my thing is you put six or seven good days together and you’re ready to go. Just one good day doesn’t mean anything. You’re only as good as your last day, so we’ll see how good we are (Saturday).”
BITTERSWEET RETURNS ON DEFENSE: As is often the case during fall practices, one side of the ball's success meant dissatisfaction on the other side.
Defensive coordinator Nick Howell expressed some optimism mixed with a bit of concern following Friday's offensive fireworks.
“I don’t think we played that hard personally,” Howell said. “We have a long ways to go as far as training hard and playing hard all the time. ... There were some good things, but overall I think our effort and our edge was not great.”
Howell was impressed with some things Friday and generally liked what he saw from Nebraska transfer Harvey Jackson, who saw extensive reps playing at strong safety.
“He definitely came here on a mission to play football,” Howell said. “He puts all his time in and for the first day I was pretty impressed. He had a couple of (blown coverages), but we’ll fix that.”
Howell believes everything will eventually be fixed on defense as the team preps for the season opener versus Connecticut.
"We’ll get it figured out. We’re going to be who we are no matter what,” Howell said.
GO FAST AND GO HARDER: BYU employed a breakneck offensive pace throughout 2013, but what does 2014 hold in store? According to coaches and players, the natural progression is to simply go faster and harder than a year ago.
Apo even asserted the goal of 25 more plays per game — a staggering number given BYU's average of more than 80 plays per game last season.
While Apo's number wasn't confirmed by coaches, they did assert the desire to pick up the pace.
“You get fast and you just want to see if you can get faster,” said offensive line Coach Garett Tujague. “I think with the way we train our guys and what BYU is all about (that) you’re going to have the most well-conditioned athletes in the world probably in football. So yeah, why not?”