PROVO — Did BYU’s offense just sign the right pieces?
Finding receiver talent was a high priority for Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall this recruiting class. When the ink dried on letter of intent day Wednesday, players with receiving ability did sign.
If Mendenhall got what he thinks he got, the Cougars have indeed loaded up with firepower.
A year ago, offensive coordinator Robert Anae returned from Arizona with a new concept for BYU’s offense. But he knew in his most optimistic bone that the Cougars were far from prepared to run it.
He kept that tone in August. He often lectured reporters about the fact that installing the "go-fast, go-hard" offense was a marathon, not a sprint. He knew establishing practice thresholds was part of it, but so was the personnel — from QB to O-linemen to receivers and backs.
Then began the season, a loss at Virginia. He was right. The Cougars were not ready. For the rest of the season, his offense featured receiver Cody Hoffman being worked to his cleats and quarterback Taysom Hill running more than he should have. There was little tight end help. The O-line made strides but was a work in progress.
If BYU hopes to go anywhere in 2014, it needs QB protection and for Hill to be an accurate TD passer.
Mendenhall believes with Hoffman gone, BYU absolutely signed playmakers to help Hill and running back Jamaal Williams push BYU’s offense forward.
Mendenhall said BYU’s 2014 receiver class will give Anae the chance to stretch the field not only sideline to sideline but vertically — and that will take tremendous pressure off Hill and Williams, who may then be more explosive in their own jobs.
It appears Anae got that help, if one believes the resumes. The Cougars signed four receivers. Three of them have great size. All should supersede the normal BYU receiver speed.
Hoffman wasn’t a bullet; he was a big, strong, tough kid. That got him the all-time career receiving title at BYU.
But as much as receiver coach Guy Holliday loved those strengths, he knew BYU could use bullet speed to stretch defenses — athletes who could stress defenses with quick slants and outs, rub routes, catch-and-runs, complete bubble screens and fly posts.
As Hoffman packed up and vacated his locker after the Fight Hunger Bowl, BYU welcomed in 6-foot-6 Grossmont Community College star Nick Kurtz, who immediately began playing pass and catch with Hill. Weeks earlier, as soon as Steve Sarkisian took the USC job, he hit Kurtz hard to decommit from BYU. Oregon and Washington joined a dozen other suitors, but Kurtz stayed true. He has 4.5 speed and was considered one of the top JC receivers in the nation.
Mendenhall doesn't want to oversell Kurtz, but he said getting a wide receiver recruit over Oregon, USC, LSU ant Texas Tech hasn't happened at BYU before.
BYU added UTEP’s leading receiver, 6-3 Jordan Leslie, who is Holliday’s stepson. Leslie is a quicker version of Hoffman. He recorded several of UTEP’s top receiving games in history and will have one year at BYU after graduating from UTEP this spring. Leslie, who is from Houston, was a first-team all-state Texas receiver in high school and was a regional high jump champion.
A third receiver is Devon Blackmon, recruited by Arizona, Colorado, Fresno State, Kansas State, Utah and Washington. He was a prep teammate of Williams at Fontana, Calif. Blackman, a high hurdles champion in high school with a 13.92 time, was a four-star recruit out of Fontana. The Sporting News listed him as one of the nation’s top 50 players. He signed with Oregon before playing at Riverside City College, where he was listed as the nation’s No. 9 junior college player.
BYU fans may remember James Dye, who, along with former NFL star Vai Sikahema, established themselves as two of BYU’s most dangerous punt returners ever. His son Trey, a 5-9, 175-pound Texas 5A honorable mention all-state player, is the fourth receiver signed. A guy who runs a 4.48 time in the 40, his father told me his son is faster than he was growing up in Inglewood, Calif.
If BYU can stress defenses with these players more frequently than it did in 2013, Anae indeed may be closer to realizing his goals.
“We got better,” said Mendenhall.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].