Robert Anae’s job looks easier today than it did a year ago.
BYU’s offensive coordinator returned to Provo last season singing an optimistic tune about installing a “go-fast, go-hard” offense after a stint with Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.
Installing it, Anae warned, would not be easy. “This isn’t a sprint, but a marathon,” he told reporters.
Anae sold it to his boss, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, and pitched it to players, vowing to get the offense to practice and play with the same intensity as the defense.
Structure, he believed, dictated behavior. Hard work with exactness hatched attitude; the mixture of both meant discipline in execution, which, in turn would bring confidence and swagger.
In front of alumni, Anae put his offense through the paces in the final practice of spring camp last Friday. It looked a lot different than a year ago when he had only a few linemen available to practice during the spring. It looked much different from last August. The pace, sound of pads, exactness and rhythm of the read-option looked much improved from last October. The passing accuracy of QB Taysom Hill and performance of his receivers with timing routes looked better than even the week before.
Time. System maturity. Stronger on-field leadership and attention to details. This isn’t the same offense — in terms of potential — that fans saw last September. It’s better.
To put it succinctly, it looked more crisp.
Hill still has a ways to go — so does his protection. But the choreography is far more polished than a year ago.
Twelve months ago, Anae announced his design and went to work. But he didn’t have the pieces or experience.
The wheels began to move last spring, but the coach didn’t have the offensive line in place to run it. It was a fragile and banged-up bunch that needed Anae’s swagger. His quarterback was fresh off knee surgery and basically had just three games worth of experience. His receiving corps was decimated midway into the season and O-line injuries mounted weekly. Confidence, continuity and chemistry were challenges.
After running a school-record number of plays — the equivalent of nearly three more games — the 2013 season ended with a tuckered out, obviously fatigued squad that stumbled out of the chute at the end of the regular season at Nevada and couldn’t finish against Washington in the bowl game.
So concluded year one of the Return of Anae.
Now, he just finished his second spring practice in this new era. What’s the difference?
Structure dictates behavior.
As a strong-minded, physically demanding man, Anae has tried to stamp his personality on his offense. You could see it in that last practice.
Anae knows Hill has elite legs, and he designed spring practice to get his passing arm to match that trait. Anae knows the teams that defeated the Cougars stacked the box and dared his offense to hurt them with the pass. Thus, pass game work.
BYU’s staff targeted recruiting to bring in wide receiver help, successfully signing speed, size and experience to cut acclamation time this fall. UTEP’s Jordan Leslie, former Oregon speedster Devon Blackmon and JC transfer Nick Kurtz are part of that infusion.
In his final practice of spring camp, Kurtz showed how he could fill the gap left by the departure of Cody Hoffman. Some said Friday was Kurtz’s best day as a Cougar.
Now a disclaimer: BYU’s media access is more restrictive than it's ever been. A handful of glimpses at the end of select availability is all any outsider has had to measure and compare progress. One must rely on those few peeks and reports from coaches and players.
After the spring game, Anae made the statement that if you punched last year’s offensive line, it'd fall down and not get back up, but that this year’s version would jump back up and duke it out. Receivers coach Guy Holliday is on record saying the Cougar passing game is significantly better than a year ago, and linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said the 2014 offense is light years ahead of 2013 coming out of spring.
That’s all hype until BYU meets UConn in the season opener at the end of August.
But if what was on display in the final practice is any evidence, Kool-Aid pitcher, meet glass with ice.
This is not your 2013 BYU football team.
It is better because Anae’s players have grown into a system that has evolved.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].