PROVO — Offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s offensive system has now been in place for a year. Couple that fact with a slew of returning players at key positions, and the expectation for the team is easily apparent.
Improvement, and lot’s of it.
The work to improve last season’s offensive product began right after the final game and has continued in earnest into spring practices. With almost four weeks of spring practice complete, coach Bronco Mendenhall is pleased with the progress.
“I love it,” observed Mendenhall about the improvements within the offense. “I’ve spent the entire offseason with our offense — from the end of our fall until now. That doesn’t mean I’m an offensive coordinator yet, but I’m trying to lend everything I know about what makes us more difficult to defend and it’s fun to watch.”
As always, most eyes are glued to the quarterback position where Taysom Hill returns as the starter. Hill has been focused all offseason on striving to refine key aspects of his play and likes the results so far this spring.
“I think right now I’m feeling pretty confident,” Hill said. “I like the way I’m playing right now. I’ve had quite a bit of progress of spring ball to where I’m at now. I’m not content. I’m eager to get better, but I’m pleased with the way I’ve been playing.”
Hill says that most of his focus has been on improving his timing, decision-making and recognition of opposing defenses. Coaches have encouraged Hill to hit the film room to observe top quarterbacks operate, including one whom he's been compared with athletically.
"I sat down with Coach Mendenhall and I watched some of Colin Kaepernick when he played at Nevada and when their offense was one of the best in the country," Hill said. "(Mendenhall) put a cut-up together for me and it was based primarily on the run game, so I sat and watched him."
One aspect of Kaepernick's game that Mendenhall is trying to drill into his assumed starting quarterback is to run toward the sidelines more than toward the middle of the field. The hope is to lessen the amount of hits Hill has to endure in order to stay healthy.
Improvements certainly don't end with just the quarterback, and coaches have been generally pleased with the progress at all positions. One position that has seen a boost to overall progression and attitude is the offensive line.
Throughout spring training, the offensive line coach has observed a sense of cohesion and attitude among his players that has him excited for their prospects.
“When I say something, and I say it in one word — man, they know the whole main paragraph that goes behind that,” offensive line coach Garett Tujague explained. “Where before they’d have to think and process the information, so we’ve gotten a lot better in that aspect and that brings confidence. And when your confidence level is a little higher, you’re going to have a tendency to play better.”
The offensive line returns eight players who saw significant playing time last season, along with some new faces such as Ului Lapuaho, who recently returned from his LDS mission service and Tuni Kanuch, who switched over from the defensive line in the offseason. Tujague pinpointed both players when asked which linemen are making the biggest strides along with returning center Edward Fusi and returning tackle De'Ondre Wesley.
“Those guys have definitely stepped up their game,” Tujague said.
Along with personnel improvements has come some tweaking of the offense. Coaches and players say that the "go hard, go fast" approach hasn't slowed down, but that certain nuances have been added to supplement the production.
"The base is the same, but we’ve added new intricacies and we’ve made our defense a little harder to defend, I think,” Hill explained. “We’ve added quite a bit of motion to our offense and it just makes it harder on a defense to defend. So the base is the same, but we’re just getting into it different ways.”
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