Spring Preview: Skill Positions

Brandon Gurney finishes his spring preview just in time for spring practice to start. In the final installment, the G-man prognosticates about the offensive skill positions: quarterback, running back, tight end and receiver.

There are little if any voids that need to be filled in the Cougar backfield at both quarterback and the running back positions. This can readily be termed as a huge positive for an offense searching for the type of offensive stride that has eluded the Cougar football team since the 2001 season.

At wide receiver the Cougars have Todd Watkins returning with a gaggle of players coming off of injuries and redshirt years that are raring to get their motors started. At a glance, the parts are in place for a prolific Cougar offense under new offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

Voids to be filled at quarterback: None. All players return from a year ago at the signal-caller position.

Parts:

John Beck 6-2, 210 Jr. - Beck has received a baptism by fire thus far in his stay at BYU. Thrust into the critical starting quarterback position perhaps a bit earlier than would otherwise be warranted, Beck has taken his lumps and has improved significantly during his first two seasons of play.

Beck's physical attributes are impressive. He has a rocket arm and very good mobility for a Cougar quarterback. He has also improved significantly in his ability to read coverages. Although Doman and the other coaches have not named a starter, the job appears to be Beck's to lose.

Matt Berry 6-5, 227 Sr. - Like John Beck, Berry has received his share of lumps over the past couple of seasons. He's been hampered by a hand injury, but looks to make a strong bid for the starting job beginning with this spring session of practices.

Berry's strengths are a sharp contrast to John Beck's. While John Beck has a rocket for an arm and good mobility, Berry's strength lies in quick reads and his ability to get the ball to underneath receivers consistently.

Jason Beck 6-2, 205 Sr. - Jason Beck has impressed coaches with how quickly he picks up reads and the offense as a whole since he arrived from Junior College a season ago. He's received a fair amount of playing experience and looks to compete this spring for the quarterbacking slot.

Jackson Brown 6-5, 220 Sr. - Brown adds depth to the quarterbacking position and will do so again this coming season.

Mike Affleck 6-3, 240 So. - Affleck has been working very hard during the off-season as he looks to find his place along the quarterback corps. Affleck has great arm-strength and surprising mobility for a quarterback of his size.

Conclusion:

The quarterback position is deep and a lot of players with playing experience return. That should bode well for the Cougars starting with spring ball. The competition should be intriguing and we will be watching closely to see how it works out.

Running backs:

Voids to be filled: None

Parts:

Curtis Brown 6-0, 205 Jr. - Brown really separated himself last season as BYU's primary run option. Brown has a little bit of everything and is a very complete back. He has good speed, very good power up the middle, blocks well, catches the ball well out of the backfield and can juke you in the open field. Brown is not a one-dimensional back, an asset which will serve him and the offense very well this coming year.

Brown is also a leader on the squad with a tremendous attitude. Although Anae's offense is pass-happy, Brown will be a primary factor and will likely get more touches this coming year than anyone else on the team.

Fahu Tahi 6-0, 230 Sr. - Tahi is a very nice compliment to Curtis Brown. He had nice moments last year and is very good catching the ball out of the backfield which will be of premium importance in the new offense. Tahi has also proven to be an extremely effective blocker out of the backfield whether it be lead-blocking on run plays or picking up blitzing linebackers.

Moa Peaua 6-0, 265 Sr. - Peaua will be an interesting guy to watch this spring. While Anae's new offense has traditionally gone single-back, it is hard to completely leave Peaua out of the picture. Peaua proved to be a devastating lead blocker out of the backfield last season. How much he will be used in that capacity and others will be interesting to note as it unfolds this spring.

Other parts include Eric Watterson 6-0, 180 Sr., Joe Semanoff 5-10, 215 So., Nathan Miekle 5-9, 195 Jr., Wayne Latu 5-11, 210 Fr. and Daniel Hansen 5-10, 200 Fr.

Conclusion:

Running back comes back very experienced and will be a certain strength for the Cougars in 2005.

Inside receivers:

Anae's offense has traditionally not used tight ends, but has what can be termed as H-backs or "inside receivers." It is the position typified by former Cougar Bristol Olomua last season for Texas Tech. How Anae uses his existing tight ends and other big receivers will be interesting to note this coming spring.

Voids to be filled: Dennis Pitta. Pitta had a relatively good freshman campaign. He showed consistency with very good hands. A very dependable tight end who will be missed.

Parts:

Daniel Coats 6-3, 250 Jr. - After an extremely promising freshman year, Coats looks to regain that promise this coming year. Coats is a very good athlete who should thrive in Anae's new offense which relies heavily on underneath passes.

Philip Niu 6-5, 243 So. - Niu had a very good freshman year, but had to sit out all of last season with injury. Niu looks to recover and will give Coats a certain run for his money as the primary option at the inside receiver position.

Joe Griffin 6-3, 210 Jr. - Griffin got hurt early when he reported to BYU last season and had to sit out an entire year. Griffin was Watkins compliment at wide receiver in junior college and looks to fill a similar role this coming year. Griffin has very good size and the necessary athleticism to excel playing on the inside of BYU's receiving corps.

Jeremy Gillespie 6-5, 230 Jr. - Gillespie has always shown solidly in practices and looks to take a place in the regular rotation this coming season.

Johnny Harline 6-4, 235 So. - Harline like Gillespie showed well in practices last year and looks to break the rotation.

Andrew Stacy 6-3, 220 Jr. and Michael Fisher 6-2, 240 So. will ad depth as well.

Conclusion: Solid all around. Forgive me for being a bit vague about the particulars of the position and how they will be used, we'll see how those answers unfold this spring. Indeed one of the most fascinating aspects of spring practice will be the development of Anae's new offense.

Wide receivers:

Voids to be filled:

Austin Collie - Collie performed about as well as anyone could possibly imagine a true freshman's performance straight out of high school. Collie had it all: great speed, great hands, great routes and good open-field moves. Collie will be missed tremendously and his void won't be easy to fill.

Jason Kukahiko - A very solid and consistent performer when healthy. A solid underneath receiver who will need to be replaced.

Rod Wilkerson - Struggled with consistency throughout his career, but had good moments.

Antwuan Harris - Very promising young receiver who had some success breaking the rotation during his first year. Harris' void won't be missed much in regards to what he brought last season, but more so for the tremendous future this great athlete would have enjoyed.

Parts:

Todd Watkins 6-3, 185 Sr. - Watkins provided the offense with a legitimate deep threat that could beat a defense at any given time during the course of a game. Watkins has everything you'd want in a deep threat combining great speed with great size to leap over defenders trying to knock down the pass.

Watkins looks to become the complete package this coming season and his prospects are very exciting. While he remains the ultimate deep threat, Watkins looks to improve upon all aspects of his game this year to completely dominate opposing defenses. Watkins will in no doubt be the primary option for whoever starts at quarterback.

Michael Morris 6-1, 190 Jr. - Morris was due to be a significant part in last year's wide receiving rotation before going down with injury. Morris is still recovering from surgery as spring ball is set to commence. Morris is a strong guy who should thrive in a passing scheme which relies heavily upon short and intermediate underneath patterns.

Michael Reed 6-2, 190 Fr. - Reed impressed last year coming in as a very well coached true freshman prospect and had some very impressive moments in preseason practices. Reed has good speed and great size. Furthermore, the quarterbacks have already expressed great confidence in this exciting young prospect as he looks to make a significant contribution this coming year.

Bryce Mahuika 5-10, 185 So. - BYU's primary kick returner last season makes a switch from running back to wide receiver this spring. Mahuika's primary effectiveness at RB was his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, so the transition should not prove difficult at all.

Riley Weber 6-1, 190 Sr. - After burning his redshirt year holding the kicks for Matt Payne, Weber looks to be a part of the wide receiving rotation this year. Weber has shown well in practices and does most things well.

Matt Allen 6-0, 185 So. - Allen should thrive more so in Anae's offense than he did in Crowton's. Allen is a sure route runner and is very tough which is of a necessity in an offense that relies heavily on crossing routes.

Saia Hafoka 5-9, 165 Fr. - Hafoka is a guy who always seems to catch a lot of balls during most practice sessions and scrimmages.

Matthew Smith 6-2, 190 So. - Ditto for this guy as being someone always around the ball during practice sessions.

Other parts include Breyon Jones 6-0, 190 Sr. who is back after serving out his suspension, David Gooch 6-3, 210 Sr., Trent Griffith 5-11, 180 Sr. and Zac Collie 6-0, 185 Jr.

Conclusion:

It begins and ends with Todd Watkins who looks to explode this coming season. Guys like Griffin and Morris should do well in replacing the void left by Collie along with the other receivers.

Depth is not a problem with this group. While there is a slew of solid players who can play in the rotation, the coaches will be looking for a select few that can be counted upon to provide the offense with prime play-making ability. An exciting and very promising group at wide receiver this coming season.


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