They aren't big names right now, but they will by the time the season starts —BYU head coach Kalani Sitake
ST. GEORGE — Targets, practice targets.
How good will BYU’s receivers be in 2017 if all they’ve been is practice targets?
Yes, Tanner Mangum is back. He’ll get his chance. But all the guys he threw passes to when he started as a freshman and the miraculous Hail Mary bombs at Nebraska and against Boise State? Well, they’re all long gone.
So are four senior receivers from a nine-win season a year ago. Guys like Colby Pearson, Mitch Juergens and Nick Kurtz.
So, who is going to step up? Practice targets?
Well, in a word, yes.
And head coach Kalani Sitake is not worried.
He told reporters Friday after a fan fast practice at Dixie High School in St. George that what folks don’t know about BYU’s receiver corps should be interpreted as a big concern on his part.
On the other hand, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said the practice reps given to the new faces are enabling Mangum’s targets to get better day by day this spring.
“Tanner is getting a lot of people involved,” said Sitake. “He’s getting a lot of young players involved in learning, especially the receivers, and they are coming along faster than I thought they would.”
Sitake said one of the questions asked on national letter of intent signing day was why he didn’t recruit and sign any receivers in the class of 2017. It may have been a good question, but Sitake said he wasn’t sweating over the dilemma that day in February.
“It was because we had two guys redshirt last year in Akile Davis and Micah Simon. Both of them had great days today (Friday). Those guys will fill a lot of the needed reps and big plays we had with Colby Pearson, Mitch Juergens and Nick Kurtz. I feel very good with those two coming in and progress made by Talon Shumway, who has shown he can make big plays, and Jonah Trinnaman is coming on really well."
Sitake also praised Rickey Shumway.
“You don’t know them right now, but you will,” he declared.
For those who have witnessed practices, the play of Davis and the two Shumways has stood out. Simon is a very skilled athlete. Trinnaman, who made a name for himself at Snow College, has also made big strides. The Cougars also have Aleva Hifo recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and transfer Beau Tanner has been impressive with his speed.
Davis is a more sleek and quicker version of Cody Hoffman with his athleticism. He has length, good hands and can target the ball. Simon is one of the best athletes on the roster.
But as Sitake says, many of these players are unknown commodities to BYU fans because they haven’t seen them in action.
“They aren’t big names right now, but they will by the time the season starts,” the coach said.
Detmer told reporters spring is a good time for those players to get reps and develop chemistry with Mangum — and they’re doing just that. But the lack of live scrimmages in a limited spring is also a challenge in developing a pecking order with not only receivers but running backs and quarterbacks.
Last season, Trinnaman never got a spring practice at BYU after transferring to BYU from Snow. “He had to learn on the fly during the season,” said Detmer.
Decisions on playing time and starting roles will be more critical come fall practice.
“A lot of receivers made a lot of plays in the red zone today,” Detmer reminded reporters after Friday’s practice.
Tight end Matt Bushman and Davis caught red zone drill TDs Friday. Along with Simon, they looked the part of go-to guys. Sophomore Inoke Lotulelei, Neil Pau’u and 6-foot-6 senior Grant Jones also caught passes.
The coordinator used the opportunity to praise the work of Mangum as a leader in getting as many receivers as possible involved in discussing the playbook before, during and after practice sessions this spring.
“We keep doing that, we’ll be pretty good,” said Detmer.
“Guys just need reps. All those guys need reps, timing with the quarterback. We try to give the receivers a little freedom to set up the defensive back, whether off the line or at the top of the break. The more reps you get, the more comfortable you get.”
Receivers? Targets? Practice? A lack of name recognition, notoriety and familiarity and pieces of video in highlight reels? That is the status with BYU receivers today.
There is plenty of time for exposure and getting exposed.
That day will surely come.
And Sitake isn’t worried.