PROVO — Replacing wide receiver Cody Hoffman and safety Daniel Sorensen is no small task for the 2014 BYU football team.
To try to counter their losses, the Cougars have brought in five transfers — four wide receivers and a safety — to try to bridge the gap.
While there is still plenty unknown about how effective these five players will be during their Cougar careers, they are expected to provide depth and competition to a BYU team aiming to improve upon back-to-back 8-5 seasons.
Junior quarterback Taysom Hill has big hopes for his new passing targets, who are looking to bolster a receiving group that returns players like Ross Apo and Mitch Mathews but is minus Hoffman, the school's all-time leading receiver who signed a rookie free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins in May.
Among the new wide receivers is 6-foot-3, 210-pound Jordan Leslie, who comes to Provo as a graduate transfer after putting up 2,015 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in three years at UTEP.
"Jordan Leslie just got here, I’ve got to work with him a couple of times," Hill said during BYU's annual Media Day on Monday. "He’s a big, physical guy. I think he’ll be a guy in the red zone, when they come up to press him, they won’t be able to. I think he’ll be able to get off that press and win in a one-on-one coverage and help us in that avenue."
The red zone was a particular problem for BYU in 2013. According to cfbstats.com, the Cougars ranked 115th nationally in their red zone touchdown percentage, scoring touchdowns on just 48.21 percent of their 56 trips inside the red zone.
"I think he’ll help us in the slot when he’s matched up with linebackers and maybe safeties," Hill said of Leslie. "He’ll be a great addition to what we have."
The other wide receiver additions include another graduate transfer, Keanu Nelson from Stanford, and junior college transfers Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon.
Hill had the opportunity to work with the 6-foot-6 Kurtz during spring ball, as he joined the team as a midyear enrollee. Kurtz was listed as the backup at one wide receiver position on the team's post-spring depth chart.
"He’s got the mentality that as a quarterback you want," Hill said of Kurtz. "He’s worked really hard, jumped right into spring ball. He had the deer-in-the-headlights look at times with the signs and going as fast as we do and those things. But Nick is a guy that came in and he’s adapted really well. He’s a big, tall target and he can jump. I also think he’ll be one that can help us in the red zone as we throw jump balls and various things."
Hill said he is looking forward to working with Blackmon and Nelson as well.
"They just got here, and we’ll see how we can incorporate them into the offense," he said.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Harvey Jackson is joining BYU as a graduate transfer after spending three seasons at Nebraska. Jackson had 54 tackles, a fumble recovery and four starts during his three years with the Cornhuskers; much of those statistics came during his junior year in 2013.
The Cougars return three established starters in the secondary — safety Craig Bills and cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel — but Sorensen's absence is felt. He started all 13 games for BYU last season, played a major part in anchoring one of the nation's best defenses the past few seasons and is now a Kansas City Chief.
BYU defensive coordinator and secondary coach Nick Howell said he isn't sure what Jackson "can do right now. We'll figure it out as we go." This is because the 6-2, 210-pound safety has been finishing his schooling at Nebraska and will join BYU in the fall.
"I like his film. He’s tall and fast, he likes to come downhill," said Howell, who praised the player's range. "He can really cover some ground."
On the Cougars' post-spring depth chart, senior Skye PoVey was listed as the starter at free safety, the position Bills manned last season. Bills has been switched to KAT safety, where Sorensen started in 2013.
Bills, a senior, is anxious to see what Jackson can bring to the Cougars.
"Hopefully he can learn the defense quick," Bills said. "I know he’s a big body who’s athletic and I’m excited to see him come in and hopefully he can contribute in some way to our defense, whether that’s starting or coming off the bench in nickel or dime packages."
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