PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall believes this year's Cougars can have the most prolific offense in school history.
Those are strong sentiments about a program that has had one of the Top 5 total offenses in Division I 13 times since 1972, including the No. 1 offense in the nation during the 1984 national championship season.
Mendenhall is confident in every offensive position, but the return of quarterback Taysom Hill is what could make the unit an all-time great.
"Just having him around changes everything," Mendenhall said. "We were on the verge of breaking into the elite level of teams a year ago with Taysom, and when he goes down we struggle.
"Just by having him around, our team is more confident. They feel more capable and they're certain we can score points against any team that we play. Just having that changes the outlook of what the season can be."
BYU wrapped up spring practices Friday and Hill was limited throughout due to his recovery from a broken leg and torn ligaments. He did not participate in 11-on-11 periods or any contact drills. However, Hill worked the rest of the periods with a focus on improving his passing skills.
Hill threw for 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013 while running for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He was in the Heisman conversation last year as BYU went 4-0 before he went down with the injury against Utah State on Oct. 3.
The frustration set in as Hill was forced to watch his teammates struggle without him. It took 3 ½ months before Hill could properly plant and throw the football. He said the mental and emotional parts of seeing the season spiral were worse than the physical rehab.
The coaching staff tweaked spring practices for its star quarterback. An emphasis was placed on throwing mechanics, pocket awareness, reading the defense, timing and ball placement.
"He's as good as anybody when he has the ball in his hands," BYU quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said. "We don't need to coach that up. We just need to improve, and it's as an offense, our routes, our timing, our adjustments, all those types of things. That's all the work he's able to do in the spring, so it works out perfect."
From that perspective, Hill said, the injury was a blessing in disguise. It forced him to develop other parts of his game.
The tricky part, however, is keeping him healthy. He also suffered a season-ending knee injury during his freshman year.
Coaches have talked to him about being smarter when running the ball and trusting his teammates. Mendenhall said it was easy in the past to have Hill run the ball in critical moments, but that opens him up to additional hits.
He said the amount of called runs will be "greatly reduced," but that's easier said than done, especially for Hill.
"The thing I've come to the conclusion is I know me and I'm the ultimate competitor," Hill said. "When it comes down to it, I'm going to do what I can do to win a football game."
"I realize that me being healthy adds more value to the team than me being injured. It's finding that balance of risk-reward. But I tell you, if there's someone standing between me and the goal line, I'm all in," he added. "That's just me."
Hill has been working toward this moment since high school. The NFL is on the horizon. The BYU offensive roster could be the most talented since he's been here. Hill should be in the Heisman conversation and teammates have said that's their goal.
He's thrilled to simply be practicing after not feeling like a full part of the team. Hill was cleared to start running weeks before spring practice began and will go through footwork testing next week. The plan is to be 100 percent at the beginning of May.
Mendenhall just wants him there by the fall.
"I think we can be as good of an offense as we've ever had at BYU," Hill said. "I think where we're going to see the expansion come from is in the passing game. We've already developed sets where we're no-back, five-wide. ... As we start to expand that way and then you start to put and combine what we can do in the run game, I think we're going to be extremely hard to stop."