PROVO — What has BYU spring practice really accomplished?
Well, after winning four games last fall, it has been all about a fix.
There are things that have stood out this spring. Things like the quarterback derby, which is the obvious storyline, but what I’ve noticed is a turnabout in one particular facet compared to last fall: passion.
During games and at many practices, the 2017 Cougars lacked it. It got kicked out of them sometime between the first home game against Portland State, the failure to cross midfield against LSU, and the loss to Utah State.
Things that stand out?
My list includes an absolutely tangible heightened energy level. Call it passion, animus or spirit, whatever. Offensive linemen have stepped up as team leaders and set the tone. The QBs and receivers seem to have more chemistry and timing, and the defense has a chip on its shoulder.
It’s as if somebody threw an oomph grenade in camp and emotion shrapnel spread.
I have no idea how all this will translate in the opener at Arizona, but you see hard work done with fun. It’s a step forward.
I’m surprised that Tanner Mangum (ruptured Achilles) is doing as much as he is. Freshman QB Zach Wilson doesn’t look like a deer-in-the-headlights rookie and Joe Critchlow has improved.
I polled some media members who’ve witnessed all of BYU spring practice sessions through the allowable window. I asked what has stood out the most about Kalani Sitake’s 2018 spring football.
Jeff Call, beat writer, Deseret News: “A renewed sense of urgency and humility, attention to detail and no entitlement. It seems like these players and coaches are doing everything they can to ensure that 4-9 doesn’t repeat itself. Specifically, this quarterback battle is going to get even more intriguing in fall camp.”
Mitch Harper, executive producer ESPN960sports.com: “What I've learned from spring ball is that the safety position will be a strength for this BYU football team in 2018. Switching Dayan Ghanwoloku from cornerback to safety raised questions at the beginning of camp, and even Ghanwoloku would admit he was thinking like a cornerback after the first couple of practices five weeks ago. But now he's running with the first-team defense and playing very well.
“Austin Lee will be a star of this BYU defense. The Utah transfer who prepped here locally at Alta High School was always known for his speed and he has established himself as a starter heading into the offseason.
“Pair Lee and Ghanwoloku with Troy Warner, who coaches expect to be 100 percent cleared for fall camp as he continues his recovery from a Lisfranc injury he suffered last season. The depth is bolstered by players who have game experience in Isaiah Armstrong and Tanner Jacobson and then there's walk-on Matthew Criddle, who has three interceptions in camp. First-year safeties coach Preston Hadley will have a safeties room that should give BYU's defense the flexibility to have five defensive backs at any given time this fall. ”
Blaine Fowler, BYUtv analyst: “I have noticed a consistent sense of urgency on both sides of the ball and an increased focus on accountability. It doesn’t matter who you are or how established you are in your position. If you don’t execute on every play you get taken out to think about it, standing next to the coaches.”
Ben Criddle, host Cougar Sports, ESPN 960: "Grimey’s offense — new identity, new verbiage, new scheme ... this is a balanced but multiple offense. A plethora of personnel groupings, formations, motion and shifts. They will make defenses adjust at the line of scrimmage on almost every play. A new offense will be a competitive advantage Game 1. Perhaps it works out in BYU’s favor in Arizona once again, as it did in 2016 with a new OC.
“Position changes — Zayne "Train" Anderson may never want to play safety again. Sione Takitaki is still your best pass rusher despite being moved to linebacker. Dayan Ghanwoloku is your best open field tackler and playmaker. I’m hoping he turns into BYU’s Bob Sanders at safety. Beau Tanner will be a good cornerback. Austin Kafentzis will need time to adapt to his new safety position. Every offensive lineman can play tackle or guard at this point.”26 comments on this story
Jared Lloyd, sports editor, Provo Daily Herald: “What’s stood out to me is the versatility of the Cougar offense. I’ve seen long passing, short passing throws to running backs and tight ends, running by both RBs and QBs, and plenty of motion to mix things up for the defense. Lots of players have shown good things in different situations, which makes me optimistic about what BYU will be capable of this fall.”
BYU’s spring game will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Warning: Much will be masked and many top veteran players will see little or no action. But you will see a QB derby.