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Dick Harmon: Cougars name 1st string QB

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 4:58 a.m. MDT

The BYU football summer will not be rudderless with the quarterback position up for speculation.
Bronco Mendenhall made certain of that Thursday when he named second-team all-MWC quarterback John Beck the Cougar starter going into summer.
Why?
The theories are three-fold for either naming or not naming a starting quarterback when you've got prospects who can contribute and have done so as starters.
First, there is merit in leaving it open to keep contenders motivated and the race tight. That's a good thing. The bad in that is risking a division on the team behind one guy or another.
Second, naming the starters early, particularly at quarterback, establishes a summer workout pecking order for leadership during informal workouts, call lists and who assumes a key role on the field when players gather to throw and catch. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from supervising these sessions, or even watching. It's all up to players.
Third, depth-chart competitors now know where the bar is, what and whom they need to beat.
John Beck inched ahead of Matt Berry, Jason Beck and Jackson Brown during BYU's 15 spring practices. In the final week, coaches tossed John Beck the majority of time with the first unit, where before, it was divided three ways. Beck completed around 70 percent of his passes in all spring scrimmages, and in this move, Mendenhall wants the competition to continue but must prepare a starter for the opener against Boston College.
Generally speaking, BYU's fared better when a QB got named early.
"I expect the competition for the starting quarterback position will continue through the summer and into Fall Camp," Mendenhall said.
In the final two scrimmages of the spring season, Beck completed 30-of-44 attempts (.682) for 301 yards.
"John's composure, leadership, experience and ability to move the offense in the most consistent manner were the things that gave him the slight edge," Mendenhall said. "At the end of the spring evaluation period, this is where it stands. It's John's position to lose at this point."
"The position, as any other on the team, will continue to be competition-based," he said. "I don't expect Matt Berry or Jason Beck to back off one bit. I expect them to feel that they are capable of earning the starting job, and that they will have an opportunity to battle and take the job with their performance."
"Matt's passing accuracy and commitment to become the starting quarterback has been very impressive," Mendenhall said. "I would expect that to continue. Jason's ability to create, along with his poise under pressure, continues to make him a strong candidate.
"The competition is not over; however, at the conclusion of Spring Camp, this is where it stands. It is now John Beck's job to lose."
Last season Beck became the BYU and MWC record holder with 67 pass attempts in a single game. He totaled a MWC record 34 completions on 67 attempts in the Cougars disappointing loss to UNLV on October 8.
With 3,427 career yards, Beck became the third most prolific sophomore quarterback in school history. During the season he hooked up with BYU receivers on 15 touchdown receptions, including seven of 40 yards or longer.
What is interesting in April is the approach taken by different schools during spring — and what exactly does spring football mean, especially in spring games as fans watch every move?
While Mendenhall divvied out reps to Beck, Berry and Jason Beck in almost equal thirds until the final week, the Utes are tossing the majority of Utah's work to 18-year-old Texan Brian Johnson to prepare Alex Smith's backup for the job. If Utah had 60 plays, Johnson would get 50 of them a session so far.
It is evident, Utah coaches believe their offensive salvation is in Johnson's hands and they're not messing around because nobody else has taken a Division I snap.
And then there's these spring games. Too many die-hard fans crank up for these things.
Basically, they mean nothing.
Coaches can manipulate how these blue-white, orange-blue, red-white and silver-red deals appear. They can do it with lineups (ones versus ones or ones versus twos). Or called plays on both sides of the line.
Also, these intra-squad affairs feature plays both sides know very well, right down to audible calls. Plus, fall opponents may be watching so coaches bring out the hose and shoot feathers.
At Florida this past week, Urban Meyer wanted to put on an offensive show because he had more than 50,000 fans in the stands. It was incumbent to feed the monster. So, Meyer held back his defense, watered down opposition his quarterback and line faced and the Gators looked explosive. Chris Leak played one half, completed 14-20 for 221 yards and four touchdowns. Mission accomplished.
In BYU's blue-white game, Mendenhall said he didn't hold his defense back.
"We had some lineups that were different because we stretched out our depth chart to make different combos. Also, Manaia Brown didn't play. But we went after the offense."
The previous week, BYU's offense sputtered with dropped passes. Two days later it lit up the defense with consistent ball movement and big plays and few drops. On spring game day, an overcast affair with a chilly, strong wind, there were a lot of drops again and the offense looked nothing like the previous Monday.
At Knoxville, weather impacted Tennessee's final big scrimmage before this Saturday's Orange and White game in Neyland Stadium. Cold, spitting rain had Eric Ainge go 3 of 12 and all Vol QBs combine for 11 of 32. Observers praised the defense.
So, what's up with spring practices?
Just teaching and learning.
And creating a few depth chart skirmishes to keep blood pumping.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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