PROVO — Offensive coordinator Robert Anae kept it simple after he watched BYU’s first public scrimmage of fall camp in front of a respectable Saturday crowd of 10,000 inside a sun-drenched LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Cougars had just finished a vanilla practice designed as a necessary event to acclimate players to the setting of the stadium, to keep fans engaged, and to tack up a depth chart.
“We’ve taken five steps in a marathon. That’s what this is,” said Anae. “We still have 26 miles to run before we get to where we need to be. I hope those five steps are five danged good ones.”
Anae, the ever unsatisfied taskmaster, wanted more from his offensive players, who actually looked organized, disciplined, crisp and businesslike. He got some scoring. He watched an almost flawless kicking game. QBs completed nice passes. Receivers made some nifty grabs.
And the chains moved with very limited play selection and nobody got seriously dinged up.
But it wasn’t good enough for BYU's offensive coordinator.
It was an unfulfilling day and it had nothing to do with wanting more points.
“I hope we can learn to come into this stadium, secure the football and be physical,” said Anae. “They were trying, I will say that. They are trying to secure the ball and be physical, but that is simply a mindset. That’s primarily what I looked for today.”
Anae emphasized the word try.
“If you got a thing on your computer to lamely spell 'try,' then put that it was their lamest attempt to try. They’ve got to learn when you come into the stadium you come to be physical — with bold letters placed on try.”
Perhaps part of the challenge was the format of the practice — a lot of stretching, a skeleton drill, a set of blue zone reps and non-aggressive play selection because it was a public setting. The gloves were definitely on — not off. Jamaal Williams ran a little more quiet than in closed practices during the week. QBs didn’t unload, but played cautiously, with Hill throwing away the ball on many occasions. He didn't force passes and he even got a round of applause for actually sliding after his first zone-read run.
Can’t remember BYU fans applauding QB slides, but after last year with Riley Nelson's injuries and the fiasco with Hill in the win over USU, which resulted in a season-ending knee injury, one can understand.
Conversely, last Wednesday, the offense was whooping it up and got very emotional and physical. On Friday, coaches decided to test Cody Hoffman’s “senior hammies.” It’s a condition where star seniors play limited time the first week because they have so-called "tweaked hamstrings" and are protected. Kyle Van Noy also was one of these guys.
Anyway, on Friday, Hoffman, who barely made the field Saturday, took a quick slant against a blitz and ripped off a 70-yard run for a touchdown.
“He had to open it up because it was a blitz and there was a seam and those seams don’t stay open very long. He took it. I guess those hammies worked pretty good,” said Anae.
In the course of a seven-minute interview Saturday, Anae repeated the five steps in a marathon phrase four times. When complimented on several aspects of his offense, he shot all of it down.
Hill explained the five steps a little more succinctly. The sophomore quarterback, who overthrew some passes Saturday, said his emphasis the first week had a distinct design and purpose.
First, he wanted to get everyone lined up as fast as possible, get set, and get the ball hiked. Second, he wanted to look at the defense as quick as possible — to get his reads and make progressions — before making decisions. Third, he wanted to keep the ball moving downfield without turnovers.
In weeks to come, increased execution, especially bringing down some of those high throws seen Saturday and in the first week, will become a higher priority. But for now, Hill says other things come first. He doesn’t seem worried about his ability to be accurate.
“When I found out Anae was coming back and what the scheme would be and how we’d play fast, I was very excited,” said Hill. “This is the offense I played in high school and I’m very familiar with it and know it very well.”
So, head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his re-invited offensive coordinator have the first week logged. It appears it was all about effort, speed and building up the culture — albeit with a much publicized discussion about what to put on the back of jerseys.
Now it’s time for more serious strides.
This week will be about whittling down a depth chart and centering practices on those who will see playing time. The week after that, it will be focusing on the opener at Virginia.
Apparently, it’s a marathon.
And things will pick up when seniors with protected hammies are allowed to bring their hammers to work.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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