PROVO — BYU turned some heads when the football team released its depth chart immediately after spring camp ended. Many of the positions are all but spoken for, but others are not quite as locked up as the depth chart makes it appear.
The release of a depth chart is something of an unofficial statement on the state of any program, yet these charts can be deceptive. Along with the several junior college transfers who have yet to arrive in Provo, position battles will continue into the fall, some more intense than others.
Taysom Hill, the tall, dual-threat quarterback, has been named the leader of the Cougar attack along with Cody Hoffman, Jamaal Williams, Michael Alisa, Iona Pritchard and Skyler Ridley. Meanwhile, hoopster Bronson Kaufusi leads the defensive attack along with linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley as well as Jordan Johnson, Craig Bills and Mike Hague in the defensive backfield.
Who came out ahead at the end of spring camp? Join us as we go position-by-position through the first string of BYU's depth chart.
Following the drive that almost won BYU's game last year in Boise and the 6-3 home victory against Utah State, it is clear that Hill was the most talented quarterback on the BYU sideline even last year. This spring only served to solidify Hill's undisputed grip on the quarterback position, and thus, the leader of the offense.
This sophomore who transferred to BYU from Stanford is a terrific dual threat. His size and speed give him an advantage in the offensive backfield as a runner, and his precise and powerful arm in addition to excellent field vision make him a terrific passer.
Now that he is back from injury, the job at quarterback is Taysom Hill's to lose.
Position: running back
Alisa didn't play for half of the 2012 season because of a broken arm he suffered against Hawaii, and that injury cost him his exclusive claim on the running back position. On the depth chart, two running back positions are listed, and Alisa is one of the two running backs on the first string along with Jamaal Williams.
A senior, Alisa will be expected to carry a significant load for the Cougars on the ground. Alisa's greatest asset is his size and strength. A true power runner, Alisa makes his yardage by running over and through defenders.
If Alisa is able to regain much of his 2011 form, defenses will have nearly as much trouble containing him as they did Harvey Unga in the late 2000s.
Position: running back
When Alisa went down in 2011, the 17-year-old Williams stepped in to save the day for BYU in the backfield. Now, Williams is one year older, one year wiser and one year more mature.
Williams' greatest strength is his quickness, dexterity and speed. A comparatively diminutive running back, Williams avoids contact rather than going through it. His shiftiness and ability to cut back quickly makes it difficult for defenders to get a hold on him and bring him down.
One of two starting running backs on the BYU depth chart, Williams should get a significant amount of carries next season, but that will likely depend on the effectiveness Alisa brings to the table in the backfield. Regardless, Williams is a potent alternative to Alisa should the situation require it.
Between Alisa and Williams, the running back position, and thus all the 2013 carries, are spoken for (barring injury).
Pritchard is a complete football player. He can catch, run and block extremely well, which makes him very valuable in the backfield.
While it's not likely that Pritchard will get a lot of carries, his ability to block as well as take the occasional carry to confuse the defense should prove valuable.
Pritchard doesn't have much competition for the halfback slot. While Kaneakua Friel is a capable backup, Friel will likely compete more heavily for the tight end position against Brett Thompson, which leads us to
Position: tight end
Thompson earned an honor that Bronco Mendenhall doesn't lightly give out this spring camp. Mendenhall consistently mentioned his name to the press and praised him for the good work that he has put forth.
Thompson is a hybrid receiver/tight end and is married to Coriann Clark Thompson, a member of the BYU volleyball team. At 6-3, Thompson's size and speed make him very valuable to the BYU offense.
Thompson contributed as a true freshman before leaving on his LDS mission to Kentucky and burned his redshirt last season, principally because he was physically unable to make a significant impact on the team last year.
Since then, he's made terrific strides and is nearly a lock for the tight end position. While Kaneakua Friel is capable of staking a claim to the starting tight end position, Thompson definitely had the edge at the end of spring camp.
Position(s): slot receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
Falslev is an all-over-the-field energy guy, and realistically, returners and slot receivers have to be that way. Falslev is well known for his competitive spirit and will to do just about anything it takes to get his team to a win.
Falslev is more than just an energy guy, though. He produces well, particularly in the return game. Falslev ranked in the top 20 in yards per return for a significant stretch of the 2012 season.
Falslev is a senior this year and a leader for BYU. His stake to the return man and slot receiver positions are almost as ironclad as the USS Merrimack. Only a rogue injury will keep him completely off the field.
Position: wide receiver
By far the biggest surprise on the spring depth chart was Ross Apo's relegation to the second string in favor of Skyler Ridley.
That said, Ridley is accomplished in his own right. He was forced into the position last year due to injury problems, and it took him virtually no time at all to stand out. He scored the first touchdown of the 2012 season.
Ridley runs solid routes and has good hands. He's very good at getting separation from the defender and making the catch. Fans will see him a lot on the field this year, even if Ridley is unable to keep his hold on the first string spot. After all, Apo is still in the wings.
Cody Hoffman is who all three of BYU's quarterbacks turned to when a catch absolutely had to be made last year, and that's unlikely to change this year. In a word, Hoffman is clutch.
Hoffman is without a doubt the most productive and explosive receiver on BYU's roster. He made headlines when he announced his decision to come back for his senior season rather than to stake his claim to millions of dollars in the NFL draft.
Mitch Mathews is the second-string wide receiver under Hoffman, which is really like having two first-string receivers on a two-deep chart — as long as he stays healthy.
Mathews is another one of those players whom Mendenhall has praised to the media heavily this spring. He moves very well for his extraordinary height and stature. Mathews' weakness, however, is his propensity to get injured.
Obviously, Hoffman is the go-to guy in this scenario. The only way Hoffman loses the gig is if he hits an unbelieveable slump or if he gets injured.
Position: left tackle
Mathews has struggled against injury for most of his BYU career, and over the offseason has been recovering from surgury. That said, it appears as though those struggles are nearing an end.
Mathews was one of the few consistent parts of BYU's offensive line last fall. While the rest of the line was in and out with injury after injury, Mathews stayed on the field. Even when suffering injuries of his own that resulted in his offseason surgery, he kept playing.
Mathews will benefit most from the mentorship of last year's right tackle Braden Brown. The pair were the only two players to consistently start on BYU's offensive line. The talented sophomore from American Fork will be a mainstay this fall as long as he can continue to maintain his health.
Though he did not participate in spring camp, right now everything appears to be going according to plan with him and his recovery.
Position: left guard
Kafu is one of two players on the offensive line to have really nailed down his starting position during spring camp. Kafu was thrust into the position last year during the game against Hawaii, and though BYU dominated, Kafu struggled throughout the remainder of the year along with the rest of BYU's battered offensive line.
That said, the experience could prove to be invaluable for Kafu. It already has paid off for him this spring. Along with Mathews, he is one player you can definitely count on to start come fall.
Let's not mince words when it comes to Alletto. The media really missed the mark on him.
Nobody really paid much attention to Alletto before spring camp, and that was a mistake. After returning from his LDS mission, he didn't waste any time in getting back into shape and making his presence felt on the offensive line.
Alletto is a smart kid, and he's very capable. He seems to like the new up-tempo, speed-oriented offense that Anae has installed in Provo, and there's really no question that the job is his to lose.
Position: right guard
Johnson is formidable at his position, but he lacks in experience. Yet there is much to be said coming out on the top of the spring depth chart as a freshman.
If Johnson can hold his spot on the roster, fending off junior Brock Stringham, it's very likely that he'll be a four-year starter. What football team doesn't want a bunch of those?
Position: right tackle
Yeck is taking over for Braden Brown, the mainstay of last year's offensive line.
Yeck is a work in progress, a project type. That said, he has really developed his body and his game to the point where he can compete and make his superior athleticism relevant on the field.
At 6-8 and 288 pounds, the Texan is very, very big, and so far he has made good use of his body. The job at right tackle is his job to lose.
Position: left defensive end
Kaufusi was mostly absent from spring camp because of basketball, though that doesn't mean he hasn't been practicing his tackling skills (right, Mitchell Young?).
The fact that he is still the No. 1 option on the left end of the defensive line is a testament to his value to the BYU football team. A powerful lineman with a terrific work ethic, Kaufusi retained his shape on the hardwood over the winter.
Getting back into a football frame of mind should be no problem for Kaufusi, but if it is, Michael Doman and Austin Holt will do a good job of plugging up the holes.
Position: nose tackle
Eathyn "Mele Kalikimaka" Manumaleuna missed most of the 2012 season with a patellar injury suffered during the 7-6 loss at Boise State, but he left the line in good hands. Ziggy Ansah stepped on the field and virtually blew every opposing line out of the water in Manumaleuna's absence.
Besides his size, Manumaleuna's greatest asset is his quickness and strength. He has a knack for disrupting offensive lines and putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. In the 3-4 defense that BYU has set out in the spring depth chart, the ability to get to the quarterback and apply that pressure quickly is invaluable.
Now that Manumaleuna is back, look for him to continue wrecking offensive lines just as he has for the other three years he has started for the BYU defensive line.
Position: right defensive end
Peck wasn't able to see much time on the field until later in last year's season, and he was primarily utilized as a pass rusher.
During spring camp, he has seen almost exclusive reps with the first team defense. Without saying, Bronson Kaufusi is the feature player on the BYU defensive line, but Peck has definitely stamped a role for himself out of the right end position.
Look for Peck to continue to get a lot of reps in fall camp. He hasn't nailed down the position entirely, but it's not likely he'll lose it if he performs as well this fall as he did this spring.
Position: strong side linebacker
This is one of the position battles to watch when fall camp comes around.
Hadley missed out on spring camp entirely, and Alani Fua definitely made a statement in spring camp. Fua is an exceptional athlete but has struggled to maintain a competitive weight for the position. Fua comes from a great program in Southern California. He played a lot last season, but this year could be the year for him.
Where does that leave Hadley? It's likely that if both play at a high level, the coaches will use the two interchangeably on the field and both Fua and Hadley will make significant appearances on the field this fall. Furthermore, Mendenhall said at the end of spring camp that he may end up using three outside linebackers (Fua, Hadley and Van Noy) this fall.
Position: Mike linebacker
Unga is a player that the coaches really like and trust. That's a good thing too, because as the MLB, he's the one who will be calling the defensive plays on the field this fall.
Unga played extensively last year and is looking to cap off his BYU career with a signature season. He had a very good spring. Mendenhall's mentorship and his defensive prowess should make him a very strong force commanding the BYU defense this year.
Position: buck linebacker
Beck's announcement as a starter is definitely a surprise. Beck is talented, but he's been hit with injuries regularly during his collegiate career.
More than anything else, the fact that Beck, a 6-1, 220-pound senior, was given a starting position on the post-spring depth chart is a testament to the progress he has made with regards to his injuries. It certainly is a positive for Beck, at least.
That said, this position is really wide open. Expect more out of the BLB position this fall.
Position: weak side linebacker
What can you say about Kyle Van Noy other than BYU fans are very, very glad he is returning to the team rather than heading for the NFL draft?
Along with Cody Hoffman, Van Noy's position on the BYU first string is about as locked up as Michael Clarke Duncan in "The Green Mile." He's the undisputed leader of the defensive unit and a captain of the team. BYU's 2012 Poinsettia Bowl win was largely due to him.
Along with feelings of gratitude, BYU fans certainly should feel hopeful that this integral cog in the BYU defense doesn't go down with injury.
Position: field cornerback
The fill cornerback position requires a true athlete. This guy has to cover a lot of space on the far side of the field.
Johnson fits the bill. He's one of the best athletes to surface in Provo ever at the fill cornerback position, and he has a year of experience under his belt. The sky is truly the limit with Johnson. He is a very fast, very well-built player that will perform well come this fall and really has no chance of being overtaken in the two-deep.
The issue at fill cornerback, however, is that if Johnson does go down with injury, the drop-off in talent and athleticism to the next player is tremendous. The far sideline will be a huge weak spot in BYU's defense if Johnson doesn't play.
Position: boundary cornerback
Hague came to Provo with the aspirations of being a Cougar running back. It didn't work out.
The fact that Hague is still in Provo is a testament to his ability to reinvent his game. He put extra work into becoming a top-notch defender, and that seems to have paid off for him.
That said, this position is still up for grabs. Of the top 10 position battles you should watch for this fall, this would be one of them.
Position: KAT safety
The KAT safety position is unique to BYU's defense and is similar to the nickelback position in that the defender is free to roam the field on pass plays but has to zero in on the run. In a word, the KAT safety is BYU's last line of defense, and if it fails, the opposing team is likely to score.
Sorensen has played KAT safety for two years now, ever since the departure of Andrew Rich, and he's done a very good job. Now a senior, it's not likely someone of his experience will be relegated to the second string.
Position: free safety
Bills rounds out the Cougar defense with a lot of experience of his own. A 6-2, 209-pound junior, Bills made many different plays for the Cougars last year and is in prime position to do tremendous things for the defense this year as well.