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Dick Harmon: Summer musings by BYU's Anae prove to have merit in fall camp

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 9:31 p.m. MDT

Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News) Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

Back in June, BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae added two words to his mantra of go hard go fast: Go far. As in go long, or go deep. Or just go further than eight wins.

He spoke of stretching the field, forcing defenses to worry about more than covering the legs of quarterback Taysom Hill. And he said he believed they had added the talent to get that done.

This weekend, as the Cougars kicked off fall camp, it was interesting to observe that thought put to practice.

I was surprised at the progress of JC transfer receiver 6-foot-6 Nick Kurtz since spring ball; his chemistry with Hill is as one would expect with junior 6-6 Mitch Matthews.

UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie may not be as smooth as Cody Hoffman, but he’s more explosive, and his experience shows. Devon Blackmon is as versatile as advertised and has a nice burst to complement returners Ross Apo and Kurt Henderson.

Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a play action fake during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News) Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a play action fake during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

Blackmon had a spectacular one-handed catch Saturday. Leslie made plays all over the field Friday and Saturday. Michael Davis, a DB turned back to WR, is the fastest guy on the team, and at 6-2 is a nice weapon.

I was surprised at how good Idaho native Colby Pearson showed. Stanford transfer Nelson Keanu, who, like Leslie, has one year to play, was an even bigger surprise. Overall, this unit looked like traditional BYU hands guys, but they were taller, more athletic and fast and were confident as bankers.

“It’s a work in progress, and we’ve got a long way to go,” said receivers coach Guy Holliday.

“It wasn’t as clean as we’d like,” said Hill of BYU’s initial practice. But he admitted it was fun to have fresh receivers line up and attack a secondary. Hill had his share of long bombs in two practice sessions. Several were of the John Beck-to-Todd Watkins type.

Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News) Quarterback Taysom Hill makes a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

“Nick is a different receiver than in spring; Jordan Leslie knows what’s going on and he’s learning several positions,” said Hill. He called it “fun” and “awesome” to have that many targets, although this early, some route running was “helter skelter.”

For defensive leader and KAT safety Craig Bills, seeing receiver depth swarm the field in a hurry-up offense, is “exciting” as a teammate but a challenge as a defender.

“It’s awesome because those guys are making plays,” said Bills.

“It takes the pressure off Taysom and Jamaal to make plays. I’m not saying last year we didn’t have the talent to take pressure off them, but this year we have more, a bigger group who can take that pressure off them.”

Offensive lineman Michael Yeck runs with the team during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News) Offensive lineman Michael Yeck runs with the team during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

Bills said the difference is obvious. “When you see guys coming in and a new guy like Keanu (Nelson) comes out and he runs great routes and he’s quick, you have to be on your toes and be ready to make plays. He’s a guy who played in a two receiver set at Stanford. It was hard for him to get [playing time] there but he’s a guy who comes here with a lot of talent, and its exciting.”

Hill said this depth gives BYU’s offense the flexibility to produce “one-on-one matchups all over the field.”

That’s an interesting way to put it. Then Hill doubled down. “It’s awesome as a quarterback.”

It’s early, way early, but to observers after two sessions of the Cougar camp, it is evident BYU has talented receiver depth. It's just not having bodies, but these are ball catchers, and Hill is more capable of finding them. This is an intriguing development, one Anae spoke of more than a month ago.

A backup quarterback looks for a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News) A backup quarterback looks for a pass during BYU football camp at SAB outdoor practice field, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

If Anae can pull off this deep-long-far thing at even a respectable efficiency, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see what opens up for Hill and his legs against a more palatable schedule this year.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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