Spring Practice Preview: Offensive Backfield

As spring practice nears, the starting quarterback and running back slots are set; Max Hall and Harvey Unga are the starters juast as they have been each of the last two years. But who will back them up and who will step up to take most of the reps at fullback? G-man previews what he'll be watching this spring in the Cougar offensive backfield.

Fortunately for Cougar coaches, they won't have to be searching for their starting quarterback and starting running back this spring. Having started in each of the last two seasons, both Max Hall and Harvey Unga will resume their starting roles again this season.

Hall will have to learn how to make do without his favorite target Austin Collie and the always dependable Michael Reed. Developing chemistry with the likes of O'Neill Chambers, Luke Ashworth, Spencer Hafoka and recently returned missionary McKay Jacobson, among others, will be the primary focus for Hall this spring.

Fans shouldn't expect Unga to do much of anything this spring. He is well-established and there is little to gain from him taking a full slate of full-contact reps. We'll be watching Unga along with everyone else, but it will be surprising if he's given much work at all this spring.

Backing up Hall

Brenden Gaskins will again work as Hall's primary backup, and we'll be noting any improvements in his game. Kurt McEuen hung it up, so the Cougars will be without his services, therefore compounding the depth problems the Cougars currently have at the quarterback position.

Parker Mangum and Paul Olsen are the other quarterbacks listed on the roster. Mangum has seen work on the scout team but primarily at wide receiver, while we don't know much about Olsen at this current time. Riley Nelson is expected to join the team in the fall, which should add considerably to the depth at the quarterback position.

Search for a Fullback

Fans are anxiously awaiting the return of fullback Manase Tonga, but they'll have to wait at least until fall, as Tonga is not yet enrolled full-time at BYU. The Cougars will have to make do this spring with players such as the promising Bryan Kariya and Steven McFarland until reinforcements come in the fall.

Due to the lack of fullbacks on the current roster, it may mark a switch from having so many two-back sets in favor of the one-back sets offensive coordinator Robert Anae brought with him from Texas Tech. We'll be noting throughout spring if a switch from a predominately two-back offense to a one-back offense is in store.

Helping Unga

While running backs don't come more capable than Harvey Unga, the lack of quality depth behind him has limited his production late in each of the past two seasons. Late in the past two years the offense found itself without a quality backup to take some of Unga's slack and give him some necessary rest.

J.J. DiLuigi once again has his opportunity this spring to prove he can be the guy that can take 20 or so necessary reps away from Unga throughout the course of a game. DiLuigi came to BYU with high expectations, and while he's shown glimpses of his potential, he hasn't fulfilled those grand expectations as of yet.

DiLuigi isn't the speedster most envisioned while he was being recruited, but he has shown some ability to develop into a quality combo-type back that can take the load off Unga, if even only a bit of that load. DiLuigi catches the ball very well, which is obviously an asset in the Cougar offensive system.

Malosi Te'o is the player that holds probably the most intrigue in the Cougar backfield this spring, and with good reason. Te'o recently returned home from his mission, and if his highlight tape is any indication, he'll have a say in who gets the primary reps behind Unga in the Cougar offense.

With DiLuigi, Te'o and Kariya being the primary candidates, it will very much be the intent of coaches to find a back currently in the program that can adequately substitute for Unga and be productive. Having such a back has been a big deficiency within the Cougar offense over the past two seasons, and spring starts the search for such a player.

While the search for a full-time fullback doesn't look like it will necessarily be resolved this spring, the main stories will be Hall's acclimation to his new primary wideouts and the search for an adequate backup for Harvey Unga. These two stories will be the focus of TBS throughout the spring practice session.


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