Spring practice preview: offensive backfield

Spring practices are set to begin a week from Monday, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding what should be a very good football team. TBS begins its preview of each position group, leading off with what looks to be a very productive offensive backfield.

Football is set to begin again, or at least the spring practice session. Following a season that started off very slowly, but ended on a high note, there is a lot of intrigue surrounding the potential of this year's team.

There are a lot of returning starters from last year's team on the offensive side of the football, which should lead to some very good production this coming season. Throw in a new coordinator and two new position coaches on the offense, and that leads to a lot of anticipation regarding how the offense will look this coming season.

We'll start off with the offensive backfield, which includes all of last season's returning starters and some very exciting parts thrown in that will have a chance to prove their worth this spring.

The Given

Jake Heaps is the given at the quarterback position. Having battled through some highly questionable handling of the position last season, Heaps emerged and became what most thought he would be by the end of the season.

He'll enter this year's spring practice session as the unquestioned starter at the most visible position on the field of play. Considering his play toward the end of last season, and the return of most of his receivers from last year, Heaps should enjoy a very productive spring.

At running back, BYU will return its three primary backs from a year ago in senior J.J. Di Luigi (5-9, 190), senior Bryan Kariya (6-0, 218) and sophomore Joshua Quezada (5-11, 211). All three should at the very least be able to reprise their effective roles from a season ago.

At fullback, junior Zed Mendenhall (5-11, 239) firmly established himself as the starter last season and will likely be there again this year.

It's certainly a huge plus for the offense to have its starting backfield intact from a year ago. It will give coaches a good start-off point in the development of the entire offense for the 2011 season.

The Intrigue

New offensive coordinator Brandon Doman and others have readily made mention of how they'll continue to throw the football a lot, which isn't a big departure from what Robert Anae did when he was the coordinator. The intrigue surrounds how they'll be throwing the football.

Will they continue the very simplistic yet efficient Anae dink-and-dunk system, or will Doman spread it out more with more deep throws? He'll certainly have the goods to open up the offense with a quarterback who throws a very good deep ball and some good downfield options at receiver.

It will also be interesting to see what junior Riley Nelson (6-0, 201) does this spring. His role in the offense ended last season with his shoulder injury. Now that he's healed, we'll be looking to see what role he'll be able to play as not only Heaps' backup, but as a sort of changeup at the position with his propensity to run the football.

At running back the intrigue surrounds finding an established starter. Quezada seemed to be taking that role at the close of last season, and we'll be watching to see what further strides he can make in becoming BYU's primary option at the position.

BYU morphed into a pro-style offense last season, which featured almost constant use of the fullback. We'll see if that continues this spring or if Doman will go back to the primary spread offense that was Anae's specialty.

Other Options

At quarterback, we'll be very interested to see how both James Lark (6-2, 201 Jr.) and Jason Munns (6-5, 254 So.) are able to compete this year. Lark is sure to show some progress, but Munns is the guy who should see a world of improvement now that he's more than a year removed from his mission service.

At running back, there are two guys we'll be watching intently to see what type of impact they can make this season. Those two are freshman Drew Phillips (5-11, 168) and sophomore Michael Alisa (6-1, 215).

Phillips became a scout team legend last season with what he was able to do during practice sessions. This will be the first opportunity we've had to see him during a complete practice session, and we're anxious to see it.

What Phillips brings is speed - a lot of speed - to both the running back and maybe even the slot receiver position. We'll be noting his potential impact for this year's team as much as anyone throughout the spring, we suspect.

Alisa, meanwhile, recently returned from his mission service. He saw time at outside linebacker pre-mission, but will be competing at running back for at least the spring practice session. He proved to be very capable of running the football in high school and will look to make an impact at the position this coming year.

Collin Keoshian (6-1, 245 Fr.) has switched over from the crowded inside linebacker position and will look to find a role at either running back or fullback. Keoshian was one of the more intriguing signees in 2010, and we'll be noting what impact he makes throughout the spring.

Other running backs set to compete include Ryan Folsom (5-10, 194 So.), David Foote (5-11, 208 Jr.), Nate Carter (5-9, 192 Fr.), and Garret Juergens (5-10, 185 Fr.).

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