Taysom Hill's a smart guy. He gets it.
The BYU quarterback knows that the Cougars' fortunes in 2014 depend on his development as a quarterback, the progress of his offensive line, and his team's ability to replace the production of departing receiver Cody Hoffman.
This week marks the first time Hill will throw passes to junior college transfer Nick Kurtz, a 6-foot-6 speedster from Grossmont (Calif.) College.
Kurtz is a critical introduction. Same with returning missionary tight end Matt Sumsion, who is 6 foot 8.
Hill is one of those athletes who rewards a reporter in an interview. He is mature, thoughtfully considers questions, and tries his best to explain his thoughts, situations and predicaments. He’s notebook gold.
That’s why when BYUtv’s Dave McCann, who scored the first interview of 2014 with Hill on Monday, asked the quarterback about his development, he readily acknowledged he simply has to get better.
Here’s a prediction, just pulling it out of my cranium.
If Hill can complete 68 percent of his passes and post an average pass efficiency of 160 in 2014, his team will win 10 games, possibly 11, and be ranked. Oh, and if a tight end emerges and catches 45 passes, Hill will be golden.
Hill is exactly where Steve Young was at this stage of his career at BYU. As a sophomore, Young came in for an injured Jim McMahon at Colorado. He had both highs and lows, and he used his legs to bail himself out. Hill has shown flashes of brilliance and is definitely capable with his legs, but he must be more accurate, increase his completion percentage, take on more of a leadership role, and find far more comfort with his targets.
His legs will only take him so far.
He needs to trust the offense, trust the receivers and trust himself.
As he told McCann, offensive coordinator Robert Anae must also trust the offense and fertilize it with calls that give other parts of the machinery a chance to get involved.
Case in point for Hill and Anae is the Fight Hunger Bowl. On the night of Dec. 27, Hill ran the ball 31 times for 133 net yards.
Those numbers are impressive — but they won't get Hill, Anae and BYU to a win over a team like Washington.
Once Young became a pocket passer, he set NCAA records and killed defenses with passes to Gordon Hudson. Both became All-Americans and Hall of Famers. Once Young trusted himself in the pocket, he became the MVP of a Super Bowl.
I’m not saying Hill is Steve Young. What I’m saying — and what Hill knows — is that for him to be all he can be as a quarterback, he needs to throw touchdown passes. He needs to not expose himself to all the hits, but share those hits with receivers and backs. To do this, he needs Anae to take the tougher path to operating the offense by spreading it around. Relying on Hill to bail out a play is a cop-out, an easy off-the-hook type of operation that masks what needs to be fixed.
In 2013, with an entirely new offensive staff, efforts to polish up the offensive line, injuries to receivers Ross Apo and Brett Thompson, and scarcity of production at the tight end position, Hill’s legs just may have been forced to be a big part of the equation.
His legs were a Band-Aid.
But beginning this week, Hill and Anae have to figure out how other components can become bigger parts of the equation. If they don’t, the Cougars are destined to scratch their heads in the red zone for another season. In BYU’s best years, tight ends averaged nearly 14 yards a catch and had 50-plus balls thrown their way. In 2013, Thompson led BYU's tight end corps with just 12 catches. Kaneakua Friel added 11.
As much as many want to beat up Hill and Anae on these issues, Monday’s TV chat shows that Hill is at the front of the line in understanding the need to improve. He’s eager, anxious and motivated to fix trust issues in himself and the offense.
Running with his legs is the easy thing.
But doing the easy thing doesn't lead to success in major college football.
BYU will never climb in the rankings or threaten talented teams unless the QB throws TD passes. It’s an equalizer for the program. It’s a heritage kind of thing.
And so his offseason begins.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].