Fall camp preview: offensive skill positions

Having covered some things to watch for regarding the offensive line during fall camp, we'll now turn to the skill positions. There will be a lot of individual position battles to watch for, so expect competition to be fierce.

Everything will center on how well the players can execute BYU's new offensive scheme under the new quick tempo. The success of the offense will also depend on the chemistry between the quarterbacks and pass-catchers. Simply put, the success of BYU offenses of the past have been driven by successful quarterback play.

Quarterbacks

Following spring camp, Taysom Hill was named the starter despite being off-limits to contact due to a knee injury suffered during the Utah State game in 2012. Hill should be nearly completely healthy, if not fully healthy, as fall camp begins. Taking a look at Hill's skill sets, his speed quickly jumps out. Hill is very fast and was considered one of the fastest players on the team last year prior to his injury. He has a much better arm than Riley Nelson despite his tendency to run rather than pass, which more of a comfortable decision to make for young quarterbacks in the early stages of pass development.

What to watch for

Hill will be asked to run this season and could be asked to do so quite a bit, but it's the passing aspect of playing quarterback in Coach Anae's system that will be heavily looked at. How accurate Hill will be in a sped up offense and how much of the field he'll use – as opposed to relying on easy/comfortable short passes – will be something to keep an eye on. Effective decision making in a sped up system that doesn't allow time for a quarterback to get his defensive reads will also be a point of interest.

Make no mistakes about it, Ammon Olsen will be right behind Hill pushing him every step of the way. Will Olsen be able to take the starting reins from Hill? Chances are good that Hill will go into the season as the starter, but one can't count out the talented and very capable Olsen, who will look to improve his quarterback skills this season.

X-receiver

This will be the year that Cody Hoffman breaks multiple BYU receiving records. The senior needs just 19 catches, 538 yards and three touchdowns to set school receiving records in those respective statistics. However, the schedule has been substantially upgraded this season and his opponents will surely know who he is.

What to watch for

There is no question that Hoffman will be the starting X-receiver, but it will be interesting to see how soon Hoffman will be able to break the current records given the target on his back and the level of competition. Also, it will be interesting to see how the rotation is managed given the excitement surrounding 6-foot-6-inch fast sophomore Mitch Mathews, who plays right behind Hoffman. One thing is certain – if the offense can sustain execution, it should run a higher number of plays. This will favor Hoffman's chances of reaching some unprecedented BYU milestones.

Z-receiver

Following spring camp, 6-foot, 182-pound walk-on Skyler Ridley was named the starting field side receiver. Coach Holliday evaluated the performances of his pass-catching crew and chose Ridley over highly recruited Texas receiver Ross Apo. Ridley is a sure-handed receiver with decent speed and route-running skills, and is reliable and feisty once the ball is in the air.

What to watch for

If Coach Holliday feels Ridley is the better option at the Z-receiver position, then BYU fans should take him for his word. The Cougar receiver coach knows what he's talking about when it comes to receiver development. Naming Ridley the starter could serve also serve as a motivating push to get Apo to rise up and become the type of receiver many believe he can be. Apo is taller and faster but lacks the aggressive qualities that Coach Holliday would like to see him develop. It will be interesting to see if Apo can regain the starting Z-receiver position in time for the start of the season.

Slot receiver

In previous years, the slot receiver has been a staple of Anae's offense. This shouldn't change much, and J.D. Falslev should be heavily involved in the offense. A senior, Falslev is an experienced, quick, and very crafty player that will create fits for larger linebackers trying to cover him in space.

What to watch for

The slot receiver will be one of the more interesting offensive positions to watch this year. BYU fans will see a combination of wide receivers and tight ends man the position at various times. They won't be instructed by the same coach though, as Andrew George will instruct the tight ends while Coach Holliday will coach the slot receivers. With the rise of Mitch Mathews on the outside, Anae elected to place outside receiver Brett Thompson at the slot as a tight end. However, coming in at 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, Thompson is closer to the mold of Hoffman than 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound tight end Kaneakua Friel. Thompson is quick, nimble footed, and runs very good routes. His route running is some of the crispest among the receiving corps, so utilizing his abilities in a mismatch situation at the slot will be a good fit.

Tight ends

Along with Thompson, Friel has been named a starting tight end as someone that can play either attached to the line of scrimmage or flexed out. Last season Friel had his ups and downs when it came to consistency. Oftentimes he made the tough catch, while at times he wasn't able to secure the easier ones. Friel will need to be consistent and a more complete tight end in both the passing game and the blocking game. It's a focus for him as he enters his senior season.

What to watch for

Friel won't be the only tight end in the program vying for playing time. Coach Anae has named Thompson among his starters, but he will be more of a slot receiver than a multi-purpose tight end. Having played in nine games last season and catching eight passes for 128 yards, it will be interesting to see how 6-foot-6-inch junior Devin Mahina will factor in the rotation. It will also be interesting to see what the rotation is.

Running backs

After bursting out onto the scene in 2012, Jamaal Williams should be the frontrunner to be the starting running back in 2013. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore found his groove while carrying the ball 166 times for 775 yards and 12 touchdowns (the most carries, yards and touchdowns by a true freshman running back in the history of BYU) after Michael Alisa went down with a season-ending injury. A year older and more experienced, Williams should be more physically developed and more comfortable as a running back.

What to watch for

Williams ran very well when Coach Doman changed the offense to more of a zone run scheme. It allowed Williams to pick and choose his spots and use his strength of vision to cut back against the grain when the holes and opportunities arose. However, the zone run game more than likely won't be a part of Coach Anae's system, so there will be some adjustments there. Also, while Williams has proven to be a very effective rusher and pass-catcher out of the backfield, he'll need to improve on his pass protection in order to become a complete BYU back. It will also be interesting to see how Alisa – who entered last season as the starter – Paul Lasike and Adam Hine will figure in the offensive sets and rotation. There will be a lot of talent in the Cougar backfield.

H-Backs

Coming in at 6 feet and 244 pounds, Pritchard is about as solid as they come. He's four pounds heavier than tight end Richard Wilson and just five pounds lighter than 6-foot-5-inch Kaneakua Friel, who was named an h-back backup along with Wilson. The h-back will be responsible for taking fullback duties, and how this position plays into a fast-paced offense will be something to watch for.

What to watch for

With 6-foot, 227-pound Paul Lasike being considered a running back, it will be interesting to see the rotation and how the reps are split in a two-back system. Will the offense line up with two running backs, two h-backs, or one of each? It will be fun to see who gets in the rotation at those two positions and how they're used within Coach Anae's new offense.


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