Even after having completed three weeks of spring practices, there's no official word out of BYU on whom the Cougars will start at quarterback when they open the season Sept. 5 at Alabama. Coaches list incumbent Kevin Feterik No. 1 on the depth chart but say sophomore Drew Miller will have the chance to challenge for the starter's job when the team reconvenes in August.
It sounds like a controversy in the making. But the way Cougar coaches see it, having a pair of talented and experienced quarterbacks in the program is not a controversy. It's a luxury.So, expect both Feterik and Miller to play significant minutes next fall.
Ideally, coach LaVell Edwards would like to go through a season with only one QB. But knows it doesn't always work out that way.
"It's a different ballgame now," he said, referring to the eight-man fronts featuring quick linemen and linebackers, as well as creative blitz packages being used by opposing defenses to punish quarterbacks. "I can't see us getting through the next season without using both of those guys."
Edwards marvels at the fact former quarterback Steve Sarkisian, in his two seasons at BYU, never missed a snap and remained injury-free. Before him, Ty Detmer was similarly durable. Last season, Feterik was not so fortunate. An ankle injury sidelined him four games into the season, forcing him to miss the next three weeks of action and disrupting the team's offense.
"If Kevin hadn't broken his ankle last year," said Edwards, "we would have won at least two or three more games."
Feterik and Miller were part of last season's QB merry-go-round, that also included Paul Shoemaker, who has left the program. The result? A season filled with ups and downs.
Unlike the '97 season, however, the Cougars will enter the 1998 campaign with two quarterbacks who have been tested. "Nobody was sure last year who the starter would be because nobody was sure if either could play," said offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "They're more experienced now. We feel comfortable with either guy. Fet-er-ik's got a leg up because he's one year older. Miller was the first true freshman we've ever started. It's not only rare to start a true freshman, it's also rare to start a true sophomore."
Last year at this time, Shoemaker and Feterik had only played mop-up time behind Sarkisian. Miller was still in high school. As it turned out, Feterik and Miller received their trial by fire in 1997.
While a starter won't be announced until prior to the season-opener, nobody at BYU seems to be worried about it. "I'm comfortable," said Miller. "We're both more experienced, and we're both capable of leading the team to victory. I don't think we can go the season without two."
Feterik took last season's failures personal, is poised to lead the Cougars back to greatness and is talking like a team leader. "We're kind of on a mission right now," he said. "Going 6-5 is not cutting it. Especially the way we finished up last season. People are fired up. We want to get rid of that bad taste in our mouths."
Chow says he's pleased with the progress of both quarterbacks this spring. "We're miles and miles ahead of last year," he said.
Here's a look at the rest of the 1998 Cougars by position:
- Running back - With Ronney Jenkins and Jaron Dabney, BYU will enjoy unprecedented speed and quickness in the backfield. The key will be at fullback, where the Cougars hope Kalani Fifita can stay healthy.
When Fifita went down with a herniated disc in his back early last season, the Cougars were forced to move Dustin Johnson from tight end back to fullback, eliminating another offensive weapon. "Last year," said Edwards, "not having Kalani hurt as much as anything."
- Tight end - Since the departure of Chad Lewis and Itula Mili, tight end has been a nagging question for BYU. This spring, the Cougars seemed to have found an answer in Tevita Ofahengaue.
"I feel much better about that situation than I did before spring practice," said Edwards.
Ofahengaue caught three passes for 66 yards in last weekend's Blue-White game.
Also in the mix are freshman Brett Keisel, a freshman who missed much of spring drills due to illness, and Nate Foreman, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last fall and saw limited action in spring ball.
- Wide receiver - The Cougars have probably never been so deep at this position. There will be no shortage of targets for Feterik and Miller. BYU boasts a strong rotation in Margin Hooks, Aaron Roderick, Jonathan Pittman (a juco transfer who arrives on campus next fall), Ben Horton, Mike Rigell and Tacoma Fontaine. Overall, this corps has is size, speed and strength, traits past Cougar receivers have lacked.
- Offensive line - There are some concerns here as BYU has just two returning players in John Tait and Joe Wong. While Tait will once again be the anchor at left tackle, Wong has been moved from guard to right tackle, filling the void left by Eric Bateman. Matt Johnson, Jimmy Richards and John Skiba round out the starters on the offensive line.
"We're making good progress," said Edwards said. "Our starting unit will be good, just inexperienced. I think these guys will play well and will improve as the year goes along."
- Defensive line - Like receiver, the Cougars are deep here, with all four starters returning in Ed Kehl, Daren Yancey, Issiah Magalei and Byron Frisch. BYU also has a number of younger players who will see plenty of playing time in 1998. Edwards was especially pleased with the performance this spring of Chris Hoke, Ifo Pili and Hans Olsen (who has been moved from tackle to end). Edwards said having nine defensive linemen "will allow us to keep fresh people in there."
- Linebacker - Edwards expects big things here, with Rob Morris and Brad Martin returning. "Rob's going to get nothing but better," he said. Derik Stevenson, who for years has been a special teams star, gets his shot to start. Backup Justin Ena will also fit into the mix, Edwards said.
- Defensive secondary - With a strong front seven, BYU's success defensively could rest in the hands of the secondary. The Cougars are solid at safety with Chris Ellison, Jason Walker and Tyler Nelson returning. "Those are three guys with a lot of experience," said Edwards.
Cornerback is another matter, however. Not much Div. I experience here. JC transfer Hashi Robertson was solid this spring as did Jack Williams. Williams played off and on last season as he battled a hamstring injury. Brian Gray from El Camino JC should shore up the ranks when he arrives this fall. Also in the mix are Kevon Morton and Doug Henstrom.
- Special teams - Edwards has high praise for his place kicker. "Owen Pochman is going to be one of the best we've had around here," he said. Last year, Pochman was consistent, making his last 28 PATs in a row and hitting seven field goals beyond 40 yards. J.D. Hartsfield will again assume punting chores while Dabney will be BYU's featured return man for both kickoffs and punts.
Y. depth chart
First team offense
WR Margin Hooks (5-10, 190, So.)
WR Aaron Roderick (5-9, 165, Sr.)
WR Jonathan Pittman (6-0, 170, Jr.)
TE Tevita Ofahengaue (6-2, 245, So.)
RT Joe Wong (6-6, 315, Sr.)
RG Matt Johnson (6-4, 325, Jr.)
C Jimmy Richards (6-3, 305, So.)
LT John Tait (6-7, 290, Jr.)
LG John Skiba (6-2, 285, Jr.)
QB Kevin Feterik (6-0, 190, Jr.)
RB Ronney Jenkins (5-11, 170, So.)
RB Kalani Sitake (6-0, 250, So.)
First team defense
LE Ed Kehl (6-4, 300, Sr.)
LT Daren Yancey (6-6, 285, Sr.)
RT Issiah Magalei (6-2, 285, Sr.)
RE Byron Frisch (6-5, 260, Jr.)
SLB Derik Stevenson (6-4, 240, Sr.)
MLB Rob Morris (6-2, 250, Jr.)
WLB Brad Martin (6-1, 240, Sr.)
LC Jack Williams (5-10, 200, Jr.)
LC Brian Gray (6-2, 205, Jr.)
WS Jason Walker (6-1, 195, Sr.)
SS Chris Ellison (5-10, 185, Sr.)
RC Heshimu Robertson (5-9, 180, So.)
Punter J.D. Hartsfield (5-9, 170, Sr.)
Kicker Owen Pochman (6-0, 160, So.)
Holder Jesse Sowards (5-10, 190, Jr.)
Deep snapper Ed Kehl (6-4, 300, Sr.)
Punt returns Jaron Dabney (5-6, 165, So.)
Kickoff returns Jaron Dabney; Ben Horton (5-11, 175, So.)