The spring practice starting quarterback will be senior John Beck. In fact, this may be the first season this decade for BYU that there is absolutely no quarterback controversy during spring ball. Although BYU finished the season 6-6, Beck played well enough to be selected as the first team all-MWC quarterback. Even so, Beck needs to continue to improve and go out a winner his senior season in order for the fans to consider him as one of BYU's all-time great quarterbacks. With so many question marks on defense this may be a tall order. However, since Beck has shown a great work ethic and steady improvement throughout his time in Provo, he might end up being one of the best quarterbacks in the nation by next fall. Since there is no serious competition for his position, the goal in spring practice for Beck should be to stay injury free and to get to know his new offensive personnel.
Senior Jason Beck will very likely get the nod for the back-up QB spot over walk-on sophomore Brock Hansen. Jason Beck redshirted the 2005 season in anticipation of being John Beck's primary backup for the 2006 season. Since Jason Beck already has game experience against Stanford in 2004 when he threw 46 passes, the backup job for spring ball is pretty much a given. Jason Beck should get plenty of reps in spring ball to further separate himself from the other quarterbacks on the depth chart when they arrive in the fall.
On the other hand, Hansen is a former all-state quarterback from Alta High School and transfer from Snow College who has no real game experience. Hansen will undoubtedly get an opportunity to show the coaches what skills he possesses since there are only three quarterbacks on the current roster. Nonetheless, Hansen will really have to shine to beat out the other scholarship quarterbacks expected to arrive in the fall.
Note: Once redshirt freshman Max Hall, a transfer from Arizona State, arrives this fall, the battle for second string could become interesting. Even though Hall will not enroll at BYU until then, he will have the entire spring to get into game shape and memorize the playbook. Nonetheless, the advantage still goes to Jason Beck to get the second string nod since he has been in the system for two years and knows the personnel. On the other hand, Jacob Bower and Sam Doman will still be serving missions until this summer, when they will join the team as recently returned missionaries. It is anticipated that they will need some time to get back in game shape before being competitive enough to be considered legitimate quarterback options. The quarterback competition should be wide open for the 2007 season.
As with the quarterback position, there will be no debate as to who the starter at running back should be going into spring ball. Senior Curtis Brown established himself as the best back in the entire MWC as evidenced by his place on the all-MWC first team. Brown has quietly amassed some impressive statistics over his three years in the program and is on pace to break the school's all-time career rushing mark, needing less than 800 yards as a senior to do so. He showed his versatility last season by catching 53 passes for 454 yards. Brown's goal through spring ball should be similar to that of John Beck by staying injury free.
The race for second string running back could be the most intriguing competition to watch during spring ball. In fact, BYU has four very talented sophomore running backs to evaluate. Ray Hudson and Wayne Latu could be considered the speed backs of the four talented sophomores, whereas Manase Tonga and Fui Vakapuna could be considered the power backs.
Latu surprised many cougar faithful during the 2005 season when he came into the UNLV game in the second half and exploded for 93 yards on only 15 carries. BYU can only hope that the UNLV game was a sign of things to come when Latu he gets an opportunity for more playing time. Despite his nearly 220-pound weight, Latu has plenty of speed as evidenced by his victories in 100 and 200 meter races at the Utah track club championships. For good reason, Cougar faithful are anxious to see what Latu can do.
Hudson is coming off a redshirt year after getting a few touches during the 2004 season. From many first hand reports he has shown incredible explosiveness in practice due to his combination of speed and power. Although he has not proven himself at the college level, during his senior season in high school he rushed for more than 1500 yards in highly competitive Texas. Hudson could be the sleeper of the running backs with continued improvement in learning the system and blocking skills.
Tonga came home off his mission with very few expectations about immediate playing time, but ended up seeing a lot of time at fullback. He was not only known for his crushing blocks on his opponents, but also for his power and elusiveness in the open field on a limited number of carries. Even at 240 pounds, Tonga can be used as tailback in a heavy package, a la Fahu Tahi. In fact, in one season in high school he rushed for nearly 1900 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Vakapuna teased BYU fans in 2003 with his great blocking, shifty moves, and power running on just 30 carries before leaving on a mission. Vakapuna is back from his mission and ready to go. Since he has used his redshirt season before his mission, Vakapuna should see the field this fall in different capacities. In his senior year Salt Lake's East High School, Vakapuna had 2,559 all-purpose yards, including 1,047 in punt and kickoff returns. He could be utilized as a fullback, a feature back, or a kick returner depending on team needs.
In contrast to a couple years ago when BYU had close to 20 receivers on its roster, most of whom never made an impact, the Cougars may only have 10 receivers on its roster with no new talent expected in fall camp. The upside to only having a smaller talent pool at the position is that every receiver on the roster will likely get a chance to show what skills he has in spring ball.
Of course, BYU's #1 receiver of the past two years, Todd Watkins, has graduated. As a result, someone else must step up into his role as a playmaker.
Much heralded true freshman McKay Jacobson comes into the BYU program with the intention of making an immediate impact. He has enrolled early to attend spring ball for exactly that purpose. Jacobson was well known in high school for his acceleration and for running precision routes. As a result of his senior year achievements, he was named the Texas 5-A receiver of the year. Jacobson was also clocked at 4.38 in the 40 at BYU's summer camp and should help offset some of Watkins' lost speed. Spring ball should help his learning process substantially as he tries to adjust to D-1 ball and learn the playbook. It appears that he is slated to be an outside receiver.
Junior Matt Allen has established himself as a good third receiver last season by catching 21 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Allen is a great leaper and has good hands. He should be considered the favorite to lock up the ZR position over Zac Collie and Brett Cooper.
Sophomore Bryce Mahuika had his 2005 season cut short due to injury and ended up redshirting. As a freshman in 2004 he showed a lot of promise as both a kick returner and receiver. Because of his athletic ability, he is sure to give Nathan Meikle a run for his money at the HR position.
Meikle surpassed all expectations last season as a walk-on by catching 36 passes for 292 yards. As a result of his solid play he received a scholarship. Despite Meikle's diminutive size, he showed a lot of heart and great hands last season. He will be spurred on to continued improvement by healthy competition at the HR position.
Last season, sophomore Michael Reed showed us glimpses of why he was the 5-A Texas receiver of the year in 2003. He had over 100 yards receiving in the Air Force game. Because of his size and talent level, he is the most likely candidate to be the next playmaker after the graduation of Watkins. Reed should only be helped by the competing with fellow Texan Jacobson for playing time this spring.
Freshman Andrew George, at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, has been anointed by many BYU fans as the next great tight end at BYU after Jonny Harline. For his size, George has exceptionally good hands and speed. It may make sense to use him at wide receiver for a year considering the glut of exceptional tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart and Bronco's stated goal of putting the 11 best players on the field at the same time.
Junior Matt Smith was expected to be a major contributor last season before he went down with an injury. Smith had been hiding out on the practice squad the previous two seasons, but because of his impressive play in practice he was slated to see the field last season. At 6-foot-2, Smith is one of BYU's tallest receivers.
Senior Cooper is the former Utah 4-A 100 meter champion and is one of the strongest and fastest receivers on the team. He is back at his natural position after a brief stint as a defensive back. If he does not find his way into the rotation, he is likely to fill the Breyon Jones' role as a kick returner.
Senior Collie has been very impressive in previous spring practices and many observers believed that he would emerge as one of the most pleasant surprises as a walk-on receiver. He did get a few chances last season and made the most of it. While he may not have the speed of his younger brother Austin, big brother Zac apparently has the good hands and moves to challenge for playing time.
Sophomore Saia Hafoka is another older brother of a highly touted recruit, Spencer Hafoka who is on a mission, seeking playing time. Although short at 5-foot-9, Hafoka is quick and shifty. He will have to shine during spring ball to find a spot in the receiver rotation.
The tight end position has arguably been BYU's most consistently talented position during the past 20 years. Tight ends tie defensive ends for the position with the most BYU alumni in the NFL at three. This season's tight end depth chart is no different in that the roster has many very talented tight ends in seniors Daniel Coats, Jonny Harline, junior Philip Niu, sophomore Vic So'oto, and freshman George.
Tight end Jonny Harline earned first team all-MWC last season for good reason. He caught 63 passes for 853 yards and 5 touchdowns to become BYU's leading receiver. With the graduation of Watkins, Harline will likely be double teamed next season unless someone else steps up to draw attention away from him. During spring ball, he should work on his blocking skills to become a more complete player. If he does so, he should be an all-American candidate at the position.
Coats has had an up and down career with BYU, but has rebounded nicely by having a solid junior season. He has now established himself as an excellent blocker and an above average receiver. In spring ball, he will have to fight off So'oto and Niu as the second tight end in the offense.
Vai Sikahema's first cousin Philip Niu showed a ton of promise as a freshman contributor in 2003. He has excellent hands and speed for a tight end at close to 240 pounds. Unfortunately, has battled knee injuries since 2003. If Niu can recover he will be a big time receiving threat for BYU.
Highly recruited sophomore So'oto got very limited action as a true freshman last season because of BYU's depth at tight end. Although he did not catch any passes, the coaches are high on his abilities. He may be the most physical of the tight ends on the roster. He has a very good chance to become a star when he gets his opportunity.
The offensive line made major strides last season and the good news is that BYU returns three out of the starting five from that group. Terence Brown is expected to leave on a mission and Lance Reynolds Jr. graduated. However, the returning group should be able to adequately replace those two as well as Brian Sanders.
Seniors Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa should be among the most experienced offensive linemen that BYU has ever had. Both of them have improved significantly since their freshman year and are the clear leaders of next year's unit as the left and right tackles respectively. Remaining healthy and possibly trimming down a little bit should be their goal for spring ball.
Junior Jeff Rhea has a good shot at taking over the center position during spring ball since he already has game experience there from before his mission. Rhea is very strong as he holds the records for power lifting at his high school. His dedicated lifting came in handy since he had to gain weight to become an effective college offensive lineman. He will likely have plenty of opportunities to prove himself during spring ball since the Vanderbilt transfer Tom Sorenson will not yet be enrolled until the fall semester.
Sophomore Ray Feinga is a big time talent who may also get some experience at center during spring ball. At 6-foot-5 and 334 pounds he is the prototypical BYU offensive lineman who has the talent to play any of the five line positions. However, his opportunity to start may come after Kuresa and Keele graduate or if he wows the coaches enough during spring ball to take over the wide open center position.
Sophomore Dallas Reynolds, the son of Coach Lance Reynolds, shocked everyone last year by becoming a starter on the offensive line fresh off a mission. Not only did he start, but he did an exceptional job of protecting the quarterback and opening up holes for the running game. At 345 pounds, he fits right in to the BYU mold of offensive lineman. He definitely has a bright future at BYU with the potential to be a four-year starter.
Redshirt freshman Travis Bright was slated to be a starter at the right guard spot last season, but got knocked out for the season because of a foot injury in spring practice. Bright had surgery last spring then had another surgery late in the fall so his status for this spring is questionable. When healthy, he is touted as one of the most talented linemen on the team.
Junior Sete Aulai was brought in last season as a JC transfer who earned all-american honors at that level, but the coaches at BYU decided to redshirt him. At only 6-0 tall he is shorter than most linemen, but he is apparently very physical and mobile. In fact, at over 300 pounds he played full back at the JC level. Aulai should be a serious contender for playing time this season and during spring ball.
Sophomore David Oswald, senior David Sollami, and junior Erik Freeman are expected to fight for playing time as backups this season. Highly recruited offensive lineman Jason Speredon recently returned from his mission but his position is up in the air. Speredon played offense and defense in high school so there is a possibility that he may end up on the defensive line.
The offense should be close to fully intact going into spring ball. The offense as a whole appears to be the best group since 2001 on paper. In fact, it is doubtful that BYU has ever had first team all conference performers at quarterback, running back, and tight end all returning the next season. The offense should be very exciting to watch during spring ball.