PROVO — For the offensive coaches that are in their second season at BYU, the first day of spring practices Monday didn’t necessarily seem like a new beginning but rather a continuation.
A year ago, new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes was focused on installing a new offensive system and learning more about the players he inherited. Now? Things are different.
“The expectation is higher. The standard is higher because last year, you’re starting from scratch. They didn’t really know what the standard was,” Grimes said. “Our tolerance level as coaches is probably smaller. … We’re trying to pick up right where we left off last year, not skip a beat, not start back at square one. But start where we left off after the bowl game.”
The Cougars crushed Western Michigan, 49-18, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last December with then-freshman Zach Wilson turning in a spectacular — and perfect 18 of 18 passing — performance.
But Wilson underwent offseason shoulder surgery, rendering him unable to throw during the spring. Still, there are plenty of quarterbacks waiting in the wings vying for the backup spot.
The spring roster lists 10 QBs, including redshirt freshman Jaren Hall, who is also playing for the BYU baseball team; sophomore Joe Critchlow; and redshirt freshman Baylor Romney.
Those three got the majority of reps Monday.
How does quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick describe the race to become Wilson’s backup?
“It’s wide-open. I thought Jaren had a really good day. Joe did some good things,” Roderick said. “Baylor made a good throw on his last set of plays.”
“I thought Joe Critchlow did a nice job. He really seems more comfortable and at ease. He took charge and did a nice job,” Grimes said. “Jaren did some really good things as well. He’s doing a nice job. He’s always been a mature, responsible guy that has a natural leadership about him. Baylor Romney did a nice job as well.”
The other quarterbacks on the roster are freshman Gunnar Legas, freshman Talmage Gunther, sophomore Isaiah Ramos, junior Hayden Griffitts, freshman Stacy Conner and sophomore Rhett Reilly.
Not all of them are expected to finish the spring as quarterbacks, however.
“There are a few guys listed at quarterback that will be playing other positions,” Roderick explained. “I’m giving reps to three guys.”
Hall said the crowded quarterbacks room “is awesome. It’s a lot of guys in a small room now. The only concern is we have is getting a bigger room with more seats.”
Last spring, BYU opened spring practices with eight quarterbacks listed on the roster.
“There are a lot of QBs. That’s been a pretty common theme here at BYU,” Critchlow said. “We have a lot of quarterbacks and the competition is always great and the quarterbacks are always great guys, too. We all compete hard with each other and we all get better. It’s a good atmosphere to be a part of.”
As a freshman in 2017, Critchlow started three games at the end of the season due to injuries to Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge. That experience gives him an edge right now over the other backup QBs.
“Joe’s got a natural step up because he has more experience and more knowledge,” Grimes said. “Today, he has a little bit more in terms of his knowledge of the game and the system. The other guys have a lot to offer, too, particularly in terms of being a threat as a runner and a thrower. It’s way too early to say who’s ahead of the others.”
Last spring, it took the BYU coaching staff all of spring and most of fall camp to settle on Mangum as the starter. Wilson ended up taking over as the starter halfway through the season.
“I want to get a more clear pecking order going into (fall) camp this year than I had last year. The competition makes everyone better but I don’t want to be spending a whole month trying to figure out who’s going to be starting against Utah (in the season-opener next August) and who’s going to be No. 2,” Roderick said. “I’d like to get that sorted out as early as possible. If we can get that sorted out in spring ball, that would be great. I’m not going to hold myself to an arbitrary deadline. But it would be nice to have a clearer picture this year and we should be able to get that done.”
Besides Wilson, tight end Matt Bushman and wide receiver Aleva Hifo are sitting out of spring ball due to offseason surgeries.
“I feel comfortable with the guys we have. We’re not only missing Zach, we’re missing a couple of other guys who are key players. I see it as a great opportunity for those other guys to progress,” Grimes said. “We just want to advance a little bit further in our knowledge of the system for all players. Secondly, we’ve got a lot of young guys that are in position to either compete or become a solid backup. We need those guys to develop.”28 comments on this story
The Cougars were happy to return to the practice field Monday.
“It feels great to be back. I think everyone on this team is anxious to build on what we did last year,” Critchlow said. “We have a lot of great players back and we lost a lot of great players. But we’re excited that we started today and we’re looking forward to continuing to get better.”
“We’re picking up where we left off. We’re not starting over,” Roderick said. “To me, today wasn’t Day One of spring, it was Day 400-and-something since we got started here."