PROVO When BYU quarterback Max Hall suffered a right shoulder separation in the Wyoming game last November, a week before a showdown with archrival Utah, backup Brenden Gaskins prepared as though he would be taking snaps against the Utes.
Then again, that mindset is nothing new for Gaskins.
"As a backup, you think every week you might be called upon," he said. "Every game is like that. You have to prepare for every game.
"I'm just looking to help out the team in any way that I can. That means I need to prepare myself so if I'm called upon, I can help the team. My preparation is important as an individual, but our goal is to get better as a team. Whatever I can do to help to make our team better, that's what I want to do."
As it turned out, Hall played against Utah despite the shoulder injury and led the Cougars to a dramatic victory.
Still, the BYU coaching staff knows that developing backup quarterbacks is a major goal of spring practices.
"Spring is a more important time than even fall for the backup quarterback, as we can distribute the reps more evenly and put in more contact situations than you can in fall camp," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "We think this is a huge spring for Brenden."
Gaskins signed with Nevada out of high school, went on a mission and played one season at Glendale Community College before transferring to BYU. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior emerged last spring while Hall and Cade Cooper battled for the starting job.
Cooper sustained a season-ending foot injury early in the spring game. Gaskins entered the contest and completed 19-of-22 passes for 174 yards. He engineered a methodical 12-play, 97-yard drive that culminated with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reed White.
"Everyone who isn't starting, or doesn't have a significant role, waits for those moments where they can show that the opportunity will meet the preparation," Gaskins said of the spring game.
"If you're prepared, and the opportunity comes, you'll succeed. Not because Cade got hurt, but because of the situation, I was able to go out and show the coaches that I could play and I was grateful for the opportunity they gave me."
Cooper ended up transferring to Oregon, and Gaskins spent the 2007 season backing up Hall, appearing in six games. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 31 yards and an interception. During the winter, coaches awarded Gaskins a scholarship.
"Brendan's been very consistent," said quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman. "He's continued to work hard, he's continued to be a team player. Right now, he's the backup, but he's got to continue to earn that. I wouldn't say that's completely solidified. He gets a lot of reps right now and he's done well."
Hall and Gaskins took all the snaps during the first week of spring practice, but others will join the mix as the spring continues.
Behind Gaskins are Kurt McEuen, a sophomore from Heber City, and redshirt freshman Stephen Covey, a Provo native who returned from a mission in January. Redshirt freshman Jason Munns is participating in spring drills, though he plans to leave for a mission before the 2008 season begins. "We won't be able to get (the quarterbacks) all equal reps, but finding a backup quarterback, just like identifying our two-deep at all positions, is one of our primary objectives of spring," Mendenhall said.
Doman likes McEuen and all the QBs he has to work with.
"Kurt has been in the program for two years," he said. "He has really done a good job this spring; I've been really happy with him. He'll be a real good third quarterback and someone to pressure Brenden for the backup job."
The 5-foot-11, 177-pound Covey signed with BYU out of Timpview High in 2005 and played defensive back on the scout team that season. Mendenhall promised Covey when he returned from a mission, he could compete at quarterback.
"The style of offense that we could play when he's in there will be different from the style we play now because he's such a run threat," Mendenhall said. "He's fast, he's athletic, he's quick, he's tough and he's an excellent leader. Beside switching positions, he also just came off a mission.
"Patience is one of those things that will be the key here. He has to learn the position, he has to get his body caught back up to speed and master the offense. All those things take time. And he has quarterbacks in front of him.
"Quarterbacks here, ideally, won't play until they're juniors anyway," the Cougars' coach said. "Whether he chooses to stay at quarterback and how long that takes, that's hard to project. But I like him."Cougar notes: In a brief team segment at the end of Monday's practice, Hall completed 9-of-13 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown to Michael Reed, while Gaskins was 3-of-5 for 7 yards and had a tipped pass intercepted by linebacker Terrance Hooks. ... There were plenty of recruits on hand Monday, including Timpview High commits Kevin and Craig Bills, Bronson Kaufusi and Garrett Nicholson (West High) and Iona Pritchard and kicker Justin Sorensen (Bingham High). Victor Unga, the younger brother of star running back Harvey Unga, was also on the sidelines and at 345 pounds looked like a load. Victor has committed to walk on BYU as a noseguard this fall and will battle for a scholarship.