PROVO — Kalani Sitake is throwing his team in the deep end of the pool in preparation for BYU’s season opener at Arizona.
The Cougars are using much of practice time to simulate more 11-on-11 situations right out of the chute. They’re asking players to step on a fast track, digest more and conquer concepts quicker as they cram a new offense into working order in less than a month.
They have to.
And it fits one aspect of this BYU team that Sitake’s staff believes is a competitive advantage: as a group, the players rank decently high in intelligence.
Take one position group, for instance, the receivers.
Receivers coach Fesi Sitake, the former offensive coordinator at Weber State who helped lead the Wildcats deep into the FCS playoffs last year, will require every receiver in his team room to learn every single position, whether X, Y or Z. Everyone will learn the routes and responsibilities of the other so they will be interchangeable from game to game and on the fly.
“We’re going to use brain warfare,” said Fesi.
In the initial practice of fall camp Thursday, Fesi saw some illegal procedure mistakes and a few dropped balls, but his group essentially did exactly what he asked of them when they took the field. They made a lot of plays and brought energy and effort, his absolute break-the-bank must-do demands.
The biggest transition the first week will be understanding the playbook, said Fesi.
“We have such a complex playbook and it demands a lot from the receivers. I don’t have just an X, just a Z or just a slot. I’ve told the guys they need to learn every position because they will be playing every position.
“Right now they are swimming. They have to know every position. Some of those offenses that go with no huddle just go fast, and the receivers know exactly where they’re going to go on the wideout, the X and the Z on one play. On this offense, the receiver could be an outside receiver and run a go, or he could be in the slot and run an option or he could be right next to the offensive tackle and be blocking down on a defensive end.
“There is a lot they have to do," he continued. "We do that at BYU because we have smart guys and they are capable. We understand the strengths we have at this university and we are going to take advantage of those strengths on this team.”
By making receivers multi-dimensional, it could slow down defensive coordinators in predicting BYU's offensive personnel groups.
So, 2018 will be about leveraging brains?
“Yes, sir," said Fesi. “We’ve got them, so we’re going to use them.”
Not only is it all about learning the plays, but knowing exactly why the plays are in the offense and how they relate to the entire scheme of things.
Part of this philosophy may have been hatched in the early weeks of January when passing coordinator Aaron Roderick, an experienced offensive coordinator, met with new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, Fesi and a third offensive coordinator and play caller, Steve Clark.27 comments on this story
Roderick explained that after being released at Utah he’d spent the year researching why teams like Northwestern, Stanford, Memphis, Toledo and others do so well offensively. He said he is intrigued by their ability to do more with less and play smart.
It would seem, early in BYU’s camp, one strategy is to gain an advantage by utilizing the learning capabilities of a large group of student-athletes who, by and large, are more mature and older than the competition.
BYU isn’t hooking players up to a drip line. It has a firehose.