I think A-Rod has done a great job coaching the quarterback position up. —BYU coach Kalani Sitake
PROVO — Of the 107 student-athletes listed on BYU football’s spring roster, eight are quarterbacks. That crew includes familiar names like Tanner Mangum, Beau Hoge and Joe Critchlow. There’s also sophomore newcomer Hayden Griffitts and four freshmen: Kody Wilstead, Zach Wilson, Baylor Romney and Stacy Conner.
It’s no wonder why new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes smiled after being asked a question about his signal callers after the Cougars’ first practice of spring football.
“We have a lot of guys there,” Grimes answered, simply, when asked about QB depth.
In comparison, BYU has 11 wide receivers, eight running backs and two kickers.
Having eight quarterbacks to choose from and to watch compete is like being at a buffet for Grimes and new BYU QB coach Aaron Roderick.
“It’s a great group, too,” Hoge said. “A great group of guys.”
Grimes said he’s keeping an open mind on evaluating how the depth chart will pan out for the QB spot, just as he’ll do with other positions.
“We’re just on the front end of what might be a long race for that position,” Grimes said, “so we’re not in any big hurry to necessarily say who’s the guy or who even the top three guys are.”
Grimes, hired to replace the fired Ty Detmer this offseason, will look for three specific things from his QBs over the next month and, really, into the summer in light of Mangum’s continued rehab:
1. Solid leadership.
2. A strong and accurate arm.
“No. 1, a guy that’s got the right intangibles — a guy that’s tough and competitive and he’s got that thing when he steps into the huddle everybody goes, ‘Yeah, that’s our guy,’” Grimes said.
“Secondly, we want a guy who can throw the ball accurately. Beyond that, we’d love to have a guy that’s athletic enough that we can run the football with him some.”
BYU coach Kalani Sitake wants to see many things from his QBs — as in, he said, “a lot of points on the board.”
“That’s all I care about, bottom line,” Sitake said. “Minimize the mistakes, especially the mental ones, and try to score a lot of points. The offense knows what they need to do.”
Health would be a bonus after a slew of injuries forced BYU to use four quarterbacks last season — Mangum, Hoge, Critchlow and the departed Koy Detmer Jr. That led to inconsistency, ineffectiveness and a dreadful offensive output throughout a historically rough season.
Sitake has liked what he’s seen early on from the QB corps.
“I’ve been really impressed with those guys, their demeanor to begin with,” he said. “I think A-Rod has done a great job coaching the quarterback position up.”
Mangum, recovering from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in November, figures to be in the mix for the starting position, of course. He comes in with the most experience but only partially participated on Day 1. Grimes said he anticipates Mangum “will be full speed” come summer, but not during spring practices.
Hoge said he’s fully healed and “ready to roll” after rehabbing his injured toe back to health after tearing ligaments last season. The junior-to-be, who looked sharp Monday, is embracing being back on the field with his teammates.
“It was awesome,” Hoge said of the first practice. “That’s Christmas morning right there.”
The new coaching staff has been very detailed while helping to install the offensive package leading up to spring practices, Hoge said. Communication has been critical because coaches want to make sure the QBs know which play to run and where they want the ball to go. Hoge credited coaches for their decisiveness and detailed instructions.
Hoge said Roderick has told the QBs, "I'm never going to put you in a situation where you don't know where to go with the ball." That means, Hoge pointed out, "Every time we step on the field, we feel like we know exactly what we're supposed to do."
The new coaches have captured the quarterbacks’ attention in the winter months.
“Guys really bought into what the coaches were preaching to us,” Hoge said, “and that was to put in extra time on your own and really learn the offense so we looked good on Day 1.”
Critchlow said BYU's mindset is focused on growth and improvement, and he likes the increased energy and pace of play that Grimes is bringing out of them.
"I feel like the team has really come together and set a lot of goals to have a much better season this upcoming year," Critchlow said. "This spring is the beginning step to head in that direction."
Though the starting position is up for grabs — and Hoge seems as likely to nab it as anyone — that’s not what his main concern is right now.
“The focus is to be as good as I can be, and that’s what coach Grimes preaches to us every day,” Hoge said. “It’s not about anybody else but yourself. If you’re as good as you can be, then it’s going to improve the players around you and then we’re going to be as good as we possibly can be as a team.”
As competitive as it is between a group of guys vying to lead the Cougar offense into a new era, Hoge said the QBs are a tight-knight group.
“We really like each other. We do a lot of things outside of football together,” he said, mentioning that they even went hot tubbing together at the home of Romney’s wife this past weekend.
“It’s a great group of guys, but at the same time, we know when we’re on the field, it’s competition time," he said. "When you’re in the film room, it’s competition time — weight room, it’s time to compete. It’s good to be able to compete and be friends at the same time.”
Hoge likes that every QB is getting reps early on, although Grimes said top performers will get the most opportunities as the spring progresses and the best players separate themselves from the group. In Monday’s practice, BYU used a quick pace between plays to rotate through most of the QBs during live-action drills against the defense. Mangum watched that part of practice.
“The offense looks great, to be honest,” linebacker Butch Pau’u said. “They look so competitive. They’re just flying everywhere.”
Pau’u is impressed by the quarterbacks, too. The biggest thing he’s noticed?
“Confidence,” he said. “You see them being like a general out there on the field.”
Pau’u said he loved seeing Conner, a freshman out of Wylie, Texas, get on receivers when they didn’t run the correct route. Critchlow and Hoge did the same thing — in a way that corrected errors but was positive. Pau'u said he tries to lead the defense the same way.
One thing the quarterbacks have in common: They are determined to not allow another 4-9 season happen.
“It’s the little things,” Hoge said. “Getting to meetings on time, doing extra with your teammates. It’s all those little nuances. Eating the right foods, doing the right things on the weekend. It’s coming down to those things. That’s what puts you over the edge, and I think last year we got a little sloppy.”