PROVO — Position battles routinely make headlines at college football fall camps around the country. At BYU, there are at least 10 such battles making headlines heading into the Cougars' fall practice sessions, which begin this Saturday.
The good news for the team is that the starting quarterback position was decided last spring. Taysom Hill has the reigns and looks to be a signal-caller BYU fans can completely get behind given his tremendous upside and intriguing skill set.
Most skill positions on offense also appear to be set entering fall camp, led by the return of last year’s leading receiver, Cody Hoffman. Running back is well-stocked with returning starters Jamaal Williams and Michael Alisa. Kaneakua Friel returns as the starter at tight end.
Most of the question marks on offense are along the offensive front, which struggled mightily last season.
On defense, outside linebacker and safety look as strong as ever, but questions remain along the defensive front and at one cornerback position.
Other storylines are sure to crop up as the practice sessions wear on, but until further notice here are the top 10 position battles entering fall practices.
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Preston Hadley was arguably the most underrated player on defense, and it will be a chore to replace his consistency and overall ability. The position was dealt a severe blow when junior college transfer Trent Trammell tore his ACL during spring practices.
Senior Mike Hague should get a long look as the potential starter, as will incoming junior college transfers Robertson Daniel and Sam Lee. True freshman Dallin Leavitt should compete for the spot as well, among others.
Any player or coach will tell you that nose tackle is the most critical position within BYU’s 3-4 alignment, which makes this position battle critical. Romney Fuga did yeoman’s work last season, taking the vast majority of reps at the position.
Senior Eathyn Manumaleuna was the starter at the position out of spring and has certainly proved capable to man the spot, but coaches would prefer to move him to defensive end. That leaves a host of unproven talent, including JC transfers Marques Johnson and Kalolo Utu and incoming freshmen JonRyheem Peoples and Merrill Taliauli and former Bingham star Tuni Kanuch to battle for the spot.
Ultimately, position coach Steve Kaufusi would like to find three trustworthy nose tackles to man the position.
Sophomore Manoa Pikula looked poised to be the heir apparent to Brandon Ogletree until senior Tyler Beck snatched the starting role from him at the end of spring. The two are likely to battle again throughout August in what looks to be one of the more competitive position battles on the team.
Who starts opposite Cody Hoffman will play out into fall practices with three primary candidates vying for the spot.
Junior Ross Apo had the starting spot snatched from him by senior Skyler Ridley during spring, but Apo is determined to get it back during August. Sophomore Mitch Mathews impressed during spring and is a strong candidate to start.
Former Bingham standout Justin Sorensen is still working to regain his form and will battle with Trevor Samson of Fresno City College for placekicking duties. Short of a major upgrade at kicker, fans can expect BYU to go for it a bunch on fourth down in 2013.
Terrance Alletto was the starter out of spring, snatching the role from Manaaki Vaitai due to his superior conditioning and consistency. Vaitai will be looking to get the spot back, but will have a host of incoming players, led by true freshman Brayden Kearsley, to contend with.
Walk-on freshman and former Jordan High standout Kyle Johnson was a bit of a surprise starter out of spring practices. He’ll look to retain the starting spot this fall against incoming JC transfers Tim Duran and Josh Carter, along with a number of returning players such as Quinn Lawlor and Brock Stringham.
Michael Yeck will work to hold off Brad Wilcox, along with incoming JC players such as De’Ondre Wesley and both Kearsley and Carter, both of whom could play multiple positions on the line.
Finding quality starters at each of the three open offensive line positions will be crucial for the overall production on offense.
Hill is the starter and Ammon Olsen is his backup, but who will be the third option?
Coaches hope to use promising true freshman Billy Green on the scout team, so that leaves embattled senior Jason Munns vying with junior Christian Stewart for the role. Stewart impressed during spring while Munns sat out the session due to injury.
There’s likely four running backs who will battle for playing time, headlined by sophomore Williams and senior Alisa. Both players will need to prove to be in top form to hold off sophomore Adam Hine and junior Paul Lasike, both of whom have shown plenty of potential.
The battle at running back isn’t so much about finding able talent to man the spot, but deciding how to divide the reps among so many promising players.