There are a lot of things you can put in that can confuse the defense before you ever snap the ball. —BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark
PROVO — The survivor has to be pretty good, right? Nobody’s stumbling into the job as BYU’s starting quarterback.
It’s been decades but there was a time two carloads of quarterbacks were vying for the starting job at BYU.
Today a similar number of QB candidates are in BYU spring camp with hopes and dreams. There’s 21-game starter Tanner Mangum, 2017 season-ending starter Joe Critchlow, Beau Hoge, Kody Wilstead, Hayden Griffitts, then freshmen Zach Wilson, Stacy Conner and Baylor Romney.
In the spring of 1980, freshman Steve Young was discouraged and homesick and the list of quarterbacks in front of him was legion. There was the starter, Jim McMahon, his backup Royce Bybee, a transfer from Ricks College, then promising Eric Krzmarzick, Mark Haugo, Gym Kimball and Mike Jones. Then Young, as he likes to tell the tale, as the last guy.
That freshman year Young called his father Grit and announced he wanted to quit and come home. In a famous piece of advice to the future All-American, Davey O’Brien Award winner and NFL Hall of Famer, Grit told his son, “You can quit but you can’t come home.”
This is the atmosphere BYU is working in with quarterback coach Aaron Roderick trying to carve out reps. No doubt, several QBs will redshirt, a couple will become scout team leaders, and a few will likely transfer.
A few things will immediately impact this chase. First, injuries. Mangum isn’t fully healthy and won’t be until summer. Ditto for freshman Conner. Second, Roderick can further separate the herd if he runs a lot of RPOs (run-pass-options). That will elevate the skills of dual-threat quarterbacks like Hoge and Wilson. Then, he’s got experienced Critchlow that will give him an early edge if Roderick goes that route.
On Friday, during a closed practice session, the Cougars put on pads and hitting began. Friday could give coaches further evidence of what they need in a QB leader.
One thing that has stood out this first week of spring practice is that offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has brought pre-snap shifts and motion to the offense, something he witnessed Matt Canada use at LSU.
This is going to take timing, execution, intelligence and organization not only from coaches but also for every offensive player, and the quarterback will have to step in and totally take the reins of it with confidence. It’s not for the wobbly or hesitant.
This week I asked tight ends coach Steve Clark about Roderick’s research into Stanford and Northwestern, successful programs with athletes who have a similar academic mindset.
“A-Rod? He’s terrible, I can’t stand the guy,” joked Clark. “No, I’ve known him a long time. He’s great. Northwestern, Stanford? Well, I think, he researched with the question in mind of, ‘What can your team do well?’
“When you think of those teams, you think of smart, disciplined players and I think that’s what we have to be: smart, disciplined players. That is his takeaway. I think those two programs have similar types of athletes.”
Clark said that mindset and discipline impact the amount of offense you can insert into a 15-practice spring. The amount of insertion, the complexity of the material to be absorbed, and how fast it can be done is all part of it.
“There are a lot of things you can put in that can confuse the defense before you ever snap the ball,” said Clark. “It might be the same play with different formations, personnel groups, shifts and motions.
“That’s not easy for the offense but if you talk to any defensive coach, that’s what gives them the most problems, shifts and motions, unbalanced formations and sets. They are hard to defend. They make you defend an extra gap when you are not used to having to defend it. That’s probably the takeaway from that. It is what Jeff did at LSU and it is good to bring that mentality with him.”
Week one is in the bank after Friday’s chase-hit-and-tackle session.
There are still eight QBs standing.