It isn't lost on BYU receivers coach Patrick Higgins that workhorse Michael Reed is healthy, in camp, and setting a good example by running the right stuff.
Reed is a pack mule among tryout artists.
With his best guy, Austin Collie, standing on the sidelines waiting for his leg stress fracture to mend and senior Bryce Mahuika nursing some sore muscles, Reed is pretty much the old dog with all the tricks; the rest of BYU's receivers are in obedience school.
From promising Florida recruit O'Neil Chambers to returning missionaries Luke Ashworth and Spencer Hafoka, Landon Jaussi, B.J. Peterson, Reed White, Tyler Kozlowski and Matt Marshall, this receiving group is relatively young.
And it shows.
Collie, the most impressive BYU player in spring camp, forces defenses to respect him. Right now, the big show is Max Hall firing missiles to Reed, Harvey Unga or tight ends Dennis Pitta or Andrew George and they get it done.
Until Collie returns, everyone else is auditioning.
These other guys? Well, most of Hall's picks in the first week of drills have been directed towards the journeymen. While they've had their moments, they are not Reed and Collie.
Reed stands out.
"Mike's done a good job," said Higgins. "He stayed around this summer and worked hard. It's his last year and he's ready to show. When it's your last year, it means more and you put more effort into it."
There have been seasons in Provo when upperclassmen kind of coasted in two-a-days, took a little time off with a tweaked muscle here or a sore something there. Higgins says this staff will have none of that and a guy like Reed wouldn't even try.
"One thing we've instilled is that nobody is better than anybody else, and you have to earn your job every day," said Higgins. "If somebody comes in like that, they're not the type of guy we want here and after four years that type of individual is not going to be here."
Potentially, Chambers could make an impact as a new guy and the staff knows it. But playing a freshman or just handing a newcomer playing time conflicts with Bronco Mendenhall's core philosophy of making rookies earn their spot through duties on the scout team and other work. "It means more when they have to earn it," he told reporters in July.
But his talent and potential conflict with the calendar. And philosophy. He's the closest talent BYU has to another Collie. And Gary Crowton didn't wait on Collie.
Still, there's a process that must grind its way through. Higgins has asked Chambers to sleep with his playbook and speed up the clock.
For all his receivers, Higgins' agenda is to increase mental acuity and execution. Dummies need not apply.
"Just knowing where to go, the best way to get there and how to manipulate your defender the best way," is how Higgins explains it. "We have to mentally pick up splits, alignments, assignments, and route running. All those things go in to it. We have to do a better job of it."
Higgins said his receivers have to understand the whole concept, the whole package, not just their routes, "So if you don't think you're open, you don't do something that puts you in somebody else's route."
The precision and execution comes in knowing where to line up, knowing what coverage the defense is in, knowing what release best fits for that coverage, how to get into a route, how to get out of the route."
It's more than catching the football. That's the easy part.
"If you can't mentally do all this, you aren't going to catch many footballs because you're going to be in the wrong spot," said Higgins.
That's why all these new guys are taking some time to ripen.
Back in high school, guys are told to run a post. But there are posts and then there are posts and it's more complicated with today's Division I defenses and talent.
Explains Higgins: "We don't want to think, we want to react. We don't want to run and think because then everything slows down. If you have a high mental acuity, all you're going to do out there is react. It's all about repetition and we're trying to achieve it, especially with the younger guys.
"They know what route to run but a post is not a post versus cover two versus cover three versus quarters or whatever. To take the release against a corner that you know his tendencies, you use that to your advantage. We're not processing our information fast enough, so we're not doing what we should do to the best of our abilities."
After one week, Chambers has obviously stepped up as his play on Saturday indicated. Ashworth claims he's less than 90 percent, back from a mission, but he's getting a lot of work and standing out among the new faces. B.J. Peterson, a 6-3 walkon who played basketball at Brighton, has shown flashes of playmaking acumen. Hafoka is coming on ...
"It is a process," said Higgins.
Ashworth is learning a new system from the one he played in three years ago; Hafoka is a freshman back last December from a mission and Chambers is only a week into drills. "The other guys who've been here a year or year and a half are just getting to the point where they can raise their level of performance though mental acuity," said Higgins.
Expectations are high for a guy like Chambers. But in the Cougar offense, Hall can't freeze a play and re-direct a target. Still, the talent beckons usage in a guy like this freshman. "We take that under consideration," said Higgins. "He's a very good athlete and we understand what he's capable of doing. His limitation right now is his mental framework with this offense.""I'm working on it," said Chambers.
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