PROVO — As BYU’s new passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Aaron Roderick has a good idea of what he wants to get accomplished during spring practices, which kicked off this week.
The former Cougar wide receiver has eight quarterbacks to work with — sophomore Joe Critchlow, junior Beau Hoge, sophomore Hayden Griffitts and freshmen Zach Wilson, Stacy Conner, Kody Wilstead and Baylor Romney. Senior Tanner Mangum, who has the most experience with 21 starts under his belt, is limited during spring camp as he recovers from an Achilles injury.
“By the end of spring, I’d like to have it down to two or three guys that have separated themselves to compete with Tanner in fall camp,” Roderick said. “That’s the ultimate goal. We’ll get to fall camp and have a really heated competition when Tanner’s healthy. I’m really interested to see this battle play out.”
As Roderick watches to see who will emerge, what is he looking for in his quarterbacks?
“Overall, we want to have mastery over what we’re doing on offense and take care of the football and throw a lot of completions,” he said. “Our No. 1 job as quarterbacks is to move the team and score points in whatever way we can. We want to identify three guys that can move the team and score points.
"Each one of them might have different ways of getting that done. The offense is versatile enough that we can adapt a little bit to the guy behind the center. We’re trying to find three guys that can run our team and score points and take care of the football.”
Roderick acknowledged it’s difficult dividing the reps between so many quarterbacks while evaluating and developing them.
“It’s not easy. You can give quality reps to three guys,” he said. “I’ll have to whittle it down to a more manageable number as soon as I can. I’m not putting a timeline on it, but I want it to happen as soon as possible.
"As soon as there’s some separation, I’ll start divvying up the reps. It’s really difficult to divvy up reps in a completely fair way. In fact, it’s almost impossible. I’ve asked each guy to be prepared to make his reps count."
First-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has asked his staff not to make any judgments based on the past and to give players a clean slate and a fresh start.
Critchlow ended last season as the starter after returning home from his mission last summer.
“Joe looks good. I think he’s going to improve a lot since last season because he was fresh off a mission last year,” Roderick said. “He’s had time to get in shape and get his body right. He’s put on some good weight. He’s lean but he’s put on some weight. He looks good out here. He’s a smart, accountable guy who does everything right.”
Hoge also started a couple of games before injuries ended his season. He is healthy, Roderick said.
“Based on what I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching him is that he’s a smart guy who’s worked really hard to learn the offense,” Roderick said. “He had a really good first day. He made good decisions. His athleticism is a plus.”
Wilson and Conner are freshmen who signed in December and enrolled early in order to participate in spring practices.
“They both have a lot of talent. Zach took a lot of reps (Monday) with the first team and second team,” Roderick said. “He did a really good job. He doesn’t look like a freshman out here physically or mentally. He looks like he belongs here.
"Stacy’s a little bit behind. He was sick a lot in January and had to have a minor surgery. He missed some team workouts and meetings so he’s playing catch-up right now. He’s very talented though. He’s got a lot of ability, and I like the way the ball comes out of his hand. He just needs to catch up.”
Romney — the older brother of wide receiver Gunner Romney, who signed with the Cougars in February and will join the team this summer — is also in the mix.
“Baylor Romney’s a good player. He signed with Nevada out of high school and I recruited him at Utah,” Roderick said. “He went on a mission and decided to walk on here. His athleticism is outstanding. He’s not far off of Gunner’s athleticism and size. He’s a kid that can run and has a lot of talent.”
Going into spring, Roderick had a simple message for his eight-man quarterback group.39 comments on this story
“I’ve been pretty blunt with them about the fact that this is big-time college football. We’ve got some tough decisions to make. This is a production-oriented business. We have to get the job done or the next guy’s up. When you get your chance, you’ve got to go in there and be prepared to show that you know what you’re doing and where to go with the football and how to run the team.
"That’s been my message — a sense of urgency — that we’ve got to win games now. Be ready to play now. I want to put a little bit of stress on them to be prepared when they go in there and make the most of their opportunities.”