Now that Tanner Mangum is finished with the program, Zach Wilson needs a new competitor to challenge him.
The likely candidates on BYU’s football roster are Joe Critchlow and Jaren Hall.
How important is this?
Well, it’s kind of alpha dog stuff. Packs rely on it; so do athletic teams.
It is crucial for Wilson to be driven to develop, work hard, and feel a push in formal and informal workouts from the weight room to just gathering around throwing the football during the winter months. He needs to believe somebody really wants his job. The worst thing for Wilson to do is to get sophomore-itis and coast. There is no sign this is the case even after his 18-for-18 school record passing performance in December’s bowl game.
As always, it's the newest, latest face that draws the most interest, but there were other quarterbacks on BYU’s roster. Critchlow is heavily endorsed by assistant head coach Ed Lamb who recruited him out of Tennessee when he was the head coach at SUU. Critchlow began the new year by getting married in Paris, France. Hall is very familiar to passing coordinator Aaron Roderick. Others included Beau Hoge, Stacy Conner, Hayden Griffitts, and Baylor Romney.
Dustin Smith, owner of QB Elite, has worked with a bevy of quarterbacks who are now in collegiate programs, and he just finished a session with Hall this week. He reaffirmed his observations of a year ago about Wilson and Hall, that they could compete for a starting job anywhere, and he loves that they will compete this spring and fall against one another at BYU.
“It only makes the other better,” said Smith, whose camp counselors have included NFL quarterbacks Mark Brunell, Kurt Warner and Ty Detmer.
“I remember right after Zach’s junior year standing around with Brandon Doman watching him, and we both made note that there was something different in how he threw the ball and recognized coverages. I remember when Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Aaron Roderick made Jaren an offer right before his mission after watching him throw in a seven-on-seven drill at their camp. If Roderick wanted him at Utah back then and he had signed, there wouldn’t have been a need to bring in Jason Shelley at Utah.”
Smith predicted last summer that Wilson would compete immediately and could win the starting job. He said the same thing about Hall in July, that once he returned from missionary service and got his feet under him, he wouldn’t just be on the roster but would compete.
“That is exactly what he did; he started bumping guys out of his way and moved up the depth chart, ” said Smith this week.
Smith scoffs when people ask if Hall should switch positions to possibly running back or receiver to get playing time. “No, Jaren is a gifted quarterback, and that’s where he’ll play.”
As Utah proved in 2018 and BYU and Alabama can attest to in 2017, you can never have enough talent at quarterback.
“Zach doesn’t need a lot of motivation. He is a self-motivator, and that’s what makes him who he is,” said Smith.
“Zach sees things inside defenses and that’s where Jaren can improve. Elite quarterbacks have a great sense of anticipation and it’s a hard thing to teach. It’s something Tanner struggled with, seeing things develop and understand just how defenses adjust to routes. If Jaren can learn that, he has a good enough arm, and he is athletic enough that he can do some things, which I believe he showed in the fall camp after getting home in June.”
As to Wilson having a challenger, Smith said some freshman quarterbacks with the kind of success Wilson had would be tempted to ride the hype, think they have it under control and kind of glide into their sophomore year.
“But that isn’t Zach. He is very self-motivated. He’s the kind of guy that if he senses somebody is nipping at his heels, he’s going to bear down and work harder,” said Smith.
“These are mature enough kids that they will push each other. Jaren is a little older, Zach has a lot of confidence with a lot of potential to play at the next level. That’s a good combination for spring.
“Jaren is one competitive guy, and I can’t imagine he is just going to settle. I worked him out this week with a quarterback at SUU and Snow College, and he got after it. He wants it.”
Smith said there were a lot of things that accentuated Wilson’s development this past year, including coming out and chasing Mangum and wanting to surpass him. Hall can be the Tanner-like motivation on a daily basis for Wilson.
Smith has firsthand experience seeing how Wilson and Hall are valued by college recruiters.
“I remember when Jaren was in high school, I was standing on the sidelines with Robert Anae and Jason Beck and they were just gushing over him. I know Roderick and Whittingham offered him after drills at Utah’s camp. They loved him.”38 comments on this story
Smith said BYU’s situation with the two freshmen (Wilson will be a sophomore and Hall a redshirt freshman) this year was unique and solid as any you could find in Division I.
Smith wagers that if you took two freshmen QB’s from every college team in the country, anonymous to the recruiters looking at them and put them through drills at a camp, at the end of the day, Wilson and Hall would surface among the top players.
Said Smith, “If they were not the top two, they would at least be in the discussion. There is no doubt in my mind. This is a great position to be in for this coming season.”