Rarely does one single player warrant a top story in and of himself. This is especially the case regarding a recently returned missionary who has yet to complete a practice session since returning home from his mission. Austin Collie, however, is a player who left such a footmark on the program as a true freshman that the expectations and prospects deserve a lot of weight.
Collie had one of the biggest impacts of any true freshman at BYU in its history. He quickly snatched the starting spot and put together one of the more successful seasons at wide receiver you'll see at BYU. He did this as a true freshman which was remarkable and now he's back, raring to get started.
We'll be keeping a close eye on Collie from day one to see if he can not only match, but even improve upon his true freshman season.
4. Running Backs
Fui Vakapuna is the assumed starter at RB for the 2007 season and very well should be. Vakapuna, however, will not be participating in spring ball as he recovers from his high ankle injury that limited his production down the stretch of last season.
In Vakapuna's stead will be a group of promising RBs who must prove effective to step in if he isn't able to fully recover or if he goes down with injury again. At the very least the following will be called on throughout the season to add depth and rotate with Vakapuna carrying the football.
-Harvey Unga: Unga proved his worth during last year's fall practices. Unga will be limited in what he can do as he recovers from his own shoulder injury sustained last season. Unga is healthy and will be held out of contact drills as a precaution as coaches know full well what he's capable of.
-Wayne Latu: Fans remember Latu fondly from the 2005 season, seeing what he was able to do against UNLV that season. Latu has very good speed and hits the hole very well. Latu will use spring to prove his durability as a primary back as he's set to get a lot of looks during contact drills.
-Ray Hudson: Hudson has yet to establish himself as a real option out of the back field, but will work on doing just that during the coming spring practices. Hudson is a hard worker who will be there at every practice and we'll be watching closely as he looks to move up the depth chart.
-Manase Tonga: Although Tonga is firmly entrenched as the starting fullback he could also be a big part of the mix as the primary ball-carrier this coming season and certainly for the spring. Tonga has proven to be a very adept and versatile back who would likely thrive as a primary ball-carrier.
3. Battle at Cornerback
Ben Criddle is firmly entrenched at the boundary corner position, although he'll be sitting out of most, if not all, of spring practices due to injury. Criddle will in no doubt be ready for the fall as he'll be held out of spring ball for only precautionary reasons. In his stead will be a group of CBs working to gain the starting position opposite Criddle at field corner and to break the two-deep roster.
-Kayle Buchanan: Buchanan has been hampered by injuries since first walking on to the program, as was the case again last season. When he's been healthy Buchanan has shown to be a very good option to man either the field or boundary corner positions. The starting field corner position should be Buchanan's to lose, although he looks to perhaps man more playing time at boundary corner due to Criddle's injury.
-Brandon Howard: Howard has tremendous upside and has shown to have some of the best, if not the best, set of feet on the team in agility drills. Howard will be a prime candidate to break the two deep at the very least starting this spring. If Howard can prove consistent with his coverage and tackling he'll likely be a big part of BYU's defense in 2007.
-Andre Saulsberry: Saulsberry struggled learning the defense and coverages last season, but has been working hard in the offseason to improve on his reads and skills. Saulsberry looks to add valuable depth at the very least. If he proves more consistent in his coverages he could become a real option at the field corner position.
-Scott Johnson: Looks for Johnson to provide most of his reps at the boundary corner position. Johnson looked good and solid during last season's fall practices before his season was cut short due to injury. He won't be at the top of the depth chart today as spring practices commence, but could be someone who makes a lot of noise as spring practices go on.
-Brandon Bradley: Bradley is slowly working his way back after sustaining an ACL injury just prior to fall practices last year. Bradley is able to run and participate in light drills, but will likely be held out for most of spring practices. Fans and coaches alike will likely have to wait until fall to see what this very promising athlete is capable of.
A bunch of other walk-ons will compete at CB and may move to the forefront as options at either cornerback position, but those listed above look to be the primary candidates to compete for the starting field CB slot or to break the two-deep roster at either of the two positions.
2. The battle at Tight End
A trio of very talented and promising prospects will be the chief competitors to replace Jonny Harline and Daniel Coats as the two rotating tight ends. All three are very promising, and Cougar fans should rest assured that tight end will be filled adequately from last season. Who will fill the two primary tight end slots will unfold during spring practices.
-Vic So'oto: So'oto came to BYU as one of the most highly regarded tight end prospects ever to enter the program out of high school. While fans have not seen much production from So'oto on the field as of yet, he has set the practice field on fire on many an occasion.
So'oto has only been limited due to great upper-classman options ahead of him. Now that those options have moved on So'oto looks to establish himself as the #1 option at the tight end position.
-Andrew George: George, like So'oto, has shown very well during practices as he's shown to be a very adept route-runner with a great set of hands. George spent a year as a third tight end used exclusively as a blocker in short-yardage situations, much like So'oto was. Now both these sophomores look to be primary options catching the ball for the Cougars next season.
-Dennis Pitta: Pitta came home from his mission late last year and immediately went to work on the practice field. Pitta has proven to be one of the hardest workers this past offseason and is a very real candidate to become one of the top two tight ends in BYU's rotation.
Pitta stands tall at 6'6 and is a very good route-runner. He's shown very well in offseason workouts as mentioned and it can readily be assumed that his workout performance will translate to the practice field during official practice sessions. What Pitta has is a redshirt option which may lead to So'oto and George winning the top two spots.
Regardless of who rises to the top, the battle should be very intense and certainly one of the most interesting specters of spring practices.
1. Battle for Starting Quarterback
Make no mistake about it, the void left by John Beck is huge. Regardless of how talented the remaining crop of quarterbacks are or may prove to be, they'll collectively have a long way to go to even come close to the production Beck had on the football field.
-Max Hall: Hall is remarkably the old dog at the quarterback position as a redshirt sophomore. Hall has had more reps during BYU's practices than any of the other options and by a pretty significant amount.
Hall made waves as the scout team quarterback last season and did extremely well preparing the defense for each week's game. Hall has gained the confidence of his teammates and will be the frontrunner for the starting quarterback slot as spring practices get under way.
-Cade Cooper: Cooper comes to BYU as arguably the best junior college quarterback prospect from a season ago. Cooper will be competing hard from day one and has no aspirations of spending his time at BYU as a backup.
-Brendan Gaskins: Like Cooper, Gaskins comes to BYU from the junior college ranks and will be competing for the starting spot. Gaskins' strength is in his size and pocket presence.
-Sam Doman: Doman has arguably the best upside of any of the quarterbacks in the program. He's shown to be a very versatile athlete who could play a variety of different positions at the collegiate level. Doman, however, has no interest at this time to play any position other than quarterback, and he'll get ample opportunity to show his worth at the position this spring.
Look to Totalbluesports to provide the most in-depth and comprehensive coverage of all these stories, along with all others that will develop throughout the spring.