ST. GEORGE — Tanner Mangum displayed the control and confidence BYU coaches hoped he’d display in a brief showcase Friday, a situational practice before 5,000 fans at Dixie High School in St. George.
Mangum was sharp, throwing touchdown passes to receiver Akile Davis and tight end Matt Bushman on his first and second series of red-zone drills. He ended up completing his first five passes before throwing an incompletion.
It was all to the delight of fans gathered for a rare peek at BYU spring football, the team's first open practice of 2017.
“Tanner is really good,” said head coach Kalani Sitake. “And if he has time to throw the ball, we’ll be fine. But we need him to have some time to go through his reads. He’s starting to own the offense, you can see it by the way he’s more comfortable in the pocket.
“I’m very excited about the progress he’s made this spring. I thought it was good for him to sit out most of last season. I don’t think anyone wants to admit it, but it was good for him to sit out and see things from a coach's perspective, (and) now to interact and master the offense.”
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said this was the first go-around for Mangum and the offense with some specialty work in the red zone. He specifically set up the practice to “showcase” certain aspects of the offense to not only entertain fans, but also to put his quarterbacks in specific situations.
Aside from special teams work, the offense and defense also worked on two-minute drills.
“Everything happens quicker in the red zone,” said Detmer. “Two minutes, I thought he did a good job managing it. For a first go-around, we’ll continue to get better as we do it more often but the receivers made some big plays in the end zone today and that was good to see.”
Detmer said the atmosphere at Dixie High added some energy to the short practice, pointing to a hit by linebacker Francis Bernard, who knocked down a receiver near the end zone in the first series. “We usually don’t do that. But being out here with the crowd, it gets players amped up.”
Detmer said Mangum’s leadership has definitely surfaced. “It’s totally different. Last year Taysom was there and you don’t want to step on his toes when he’s getting all the reps. This year you see him after plays coaching guys up, talking to receivers, talking about what he saw, what they saw and when we get that it really helps.”
Like Sitake, Detmer said Mangum’s view from the sideline last year enabled him to learn without taking the hits. “He was able to understand it and what is expected coming in. He’s taking it and running with it.”
The event in Southern Utah appeared to be a big success for both Sitake’s squad and fans. At one point during the practice, Sitake’s administrative assistant coach Jack Damuni had a microphone and belted out directions to the crowd.
“We don’t have cheerleaders here today, but we’re going to get you involved. Let’s start a wave. Stand up and let’s get it going around."
“The fan turnout was awesome,” said linebacker Fred Warner. “Everyone was interacting and coach Damuni was getting everyone involved. It was great to put on a show for them. It means a lot, means so much to see the passion people have for BYU football.”
Sitake liked what he saw Saturday, from his team and from the fans.
“With the turnout we had, I think we’ll do it every year. Our players felt the need to be out there. It’s quite a ways (700 miles roundtrip) but it is a way for us to show our fans how much they are appreciated.
After practice, Sitake took his team to a campsite near Hurricane where he set up a tent city for an overnight team activity in the outdoors. “We're not going to starve, I’ll tell you that and we’re not going to hunt for our food," Sitake said.
“We’re camping out, we have some activities planned. I’m not much for camping out but I love being around these guys. I’ll rough it out a bit.
“If it gets too cold, I’ll find some shelters. The coaches will also stay in tents. I’ve said no one player and no one coach is above the other. Well all be roughing it. We treat everyone the same. We’re all roughing it. There will be a lot of snoring, so no bears will bother us.”
Warner said he’d be staying in a tent with his brother, Troy, and receiver Micha Simon — guys who he’s used to as roommates. Asked if he’d invited any offensive linemen, he said no, adding, “They’re too sweaty.”