Finding an Offensive Identity

The Cougar offense lost most of its identity with the graduation of quarterback Max Hall, fullback Manase Tonga and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. With the Cougars' new offensive pieces all having varying abilities and currently going through the process of development, BYU's identity is somewhat of a mystery.

Over the course of spring practice, the Total Blue Sports staff has provided BYU fans with many practice and individual reports filled with information, evaluations, player progression and position development on both sides of the ball. However, there is one major question about the team that won't be completely answered this spring: What identity will the offense have after all the pieces have been sorted out and put into place?

"Good question, that's a very good question," Coach Doman said. "Right now we're kind of trying to figure out what our identity is. We're trying to see what quarterback does what things well, and so it would be just crazy to go out there and call plays not well designed to suit the talents of that quarterback."

"It's kind of a mystery for now and we're going to wait and see how all the pieces of the puzzle will fit in and where," said Harvey Unga. "It's going to be fun to see how it all looks and what that look will do when it all turns out. As for now, I don't really know and we'll just wait and see what the coaches do with it all."

A large part of the Cougar offensive identity will depend on what quarterback is behind center.

"With the different quarterbacks that we have and go in, we have to make the right calls that can contribute to their success," said Coach Doman. "Most importantly, we are calling plays that are down their alley of abilities and strengths. We've recruited guys that naturally fit into that BYU identity funnel. When you look at Jake [Heaps] and you look at James [Lark] and see how they're fitting in, and what you see is how the offense is designed to allow those guys to succeed. That's why we're able to have success like we are right now because we have the right guys doing the right things in this system.

"Now, with Riley [Nelson], that fits into a different funnel. But we as coaches have to be smart in allowing him to have simple successes along the way because he doesn't naturally fit in. A Riley Nelson offense is going to look different than a James Lark and a Jake Heaps offense. I think you can kind of see that by how we have set things up in our practices."

Last season, the offense fielded a tough identity right out of the gate against Oklahoma. Much of that identity surfaced from the ever-fiery Max Hall at the helm. Hall, with his gritty Jim McMahon-type moxie, led the offense to victory in many close games, including an overtime victory against rival Utah.

"We've placed our quarterbacks into some nasty situations over spring, but they're not getting hit yet," said Coach Doman. "As soon as they start getting hit and get those bumps and bruises and their ribs are hurting and their shoulders are hurting, I don't know how they'll respond. I knew how Max Hall would respond, but I don't know how these guys will respond and that will be fun to find out."

"For a quarterback to establish an identity in this offense I think will eventually come," said James Lark. "We have three quarterbacks that are really good in this program, but their main strengths are all in different areas. I think when the day comes that we have a deciding quarterback, the team will all form around it."

The Cougar offense could possibly be more of a spread offense this upcoming season. As it is, the slot receiver position is being featured more lately after disappearing from the Cougar offense after 2006.

"We're really looking for the passing game first," said receiver O'Neill Chambers. "We already know we have a rushing quarterback, but I think we're going to go more spread and maybe switch quarterbacks in and out. We don't know who is going to be the two quarterbacks going in but we're getting a good idea."

The offense has the potential for more spread tendencies due to a cadre of experienced wide receivers. However, would a spread offense be ideal for younger, inexperienced quarterbacks? Or would it be better to substitute some of those receivers for big-bodied tight ends that can provide more blocking for BYU's experienced and talented running backs?

"That's a good question, and one thing we still want to do is throw the ball, and that's what we do," Coach Doman said. "For a quarterback to be our guy at the end of the day, they're going to have to be able to efficiently throw the ball around the field. Then if we can utilize that throwing game inside their sets of skills, we'll do that. So the identity part, we'll figure it out. Until then we won't know until we name a quarterback."

"We're pretty deep and have a lot of receivers that can do different things," Chambers said. "We've got the guys that can go four wide and can go the spread and can throw the ball around. We've got the receivers that can spread out a defense and make plays. We'll be a receivers' group that will be more versatile with more speed out there. We'll have more speed on the inside receivers' positions than we did last year. I think we're going to be a good group that can be used in different ways."

"I think the identity will eventually flow throughout the entire offense," said Lark. "We have all kinds of tight ends and wide receivers that can go with any quarterback, so I think we'll be fine there and have a lot of good options to use their strengths to match the abilities of the quarterbacks."

There is a very clear picture of what abilities and capacities most of BYU's running backs have. However, with Manse Tonga gone and new-player development underway, inserting the right back for the right style of offense is something that must also be considered.

"Obviously you're going to have some guys that shine more in one area then another," Brian Kariya said. "I'm sure how those individual abilities are used among the younger guys will eventually form an identity. Harvey and Manase were veterans and know exactly how they fit within the offensive identity that we had over the past couple of years. We're really just finding how some of the new guys fit within their positions in the offense, and that will help us establish our identity as we all learn to work within our roles on offense."

"I think most of spring has been focused on finding out who we have and what positions and roles they're going to have," said Unga. "As of right now it's kind of hard to say exactly what kind of roles the running backs are going to play with the quarterbacks, but as of right now the roles that we have now haven't really changed. With that being said, we've yet to know where it could all lead come fall time. Things may change here and there because we have to take into consideration on who our starting quarterback is going to be and who our starting tight ends are going to be. Right now it's still a mystery and we'll know more in the fall."

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