BYU put a bow on fall camp with two final practices on Wednesday and are now looking toward Nebraska. After watching the team for two-and-a-half weeks, here are the most prevalent story lines coming from fall camp:
Taysom Hill Returns:
After leading BYU to a 4-0 start, Taysom Hill suffered a season ending leg injury against Utah State. There were several questions about his recovery after the injury made it so he was unable to fully participate in Spring Camp.
Hill returned to Fall Camp without missing a beat. While he has yet to play in a live game, Taysom has appeared as explosive and athletic as he did before the injury.
As for his passing ability, Hill has improved. With what is being called the deepest wide receiver core to ever play at BYU, there will be an arsenal of weapons to work with. Throughout fall camp, Hill has done well in progressing through his reads and improving his pocket presence.
During last Saturday’s scrimmage, Hill went 13/18 for 143 yards. He has also done a better job in throwing the ball where it needs to be instead of waiting for his receivers to get open. This speaks to the chemistry that has been developed with the core, these relationships and development could result in an incredible season statistically for Hill.
The Cougar defense spent a significant amount of time throughout fall camp trying to establish the best combination of players to play in the secondary.
At the beginning of fall camp, the secondary saw Jordan Preator at FC, Michael Davis at BC, Kai Nacua at FS, and Eric Takenaka at Kat. Once Micah Hannemann returned from injury, he was moved to FC and the secondary consisted of Hannemann at FC, Davis at BC, Preator at FS, and Matt Hadley at Kat. When using a nickel package, BYU elected to use Takenaka as the nickel which seems to be a more natural fit.
The secondary has elected to cross train players to create the illusion of depth. While there is plenty of young talent in the secondary, the best players need to be out there. By training a player like Jordan Preator at safety and corner, he’ll be able to move between the two if there is an injury and still be able to know the correct calls.
A Vocal Leader for the Defense
One of the major stories through fall camp has been the emergence of Harvey Langi after missing Spring Camp. Langi has become the leader of the defense both vocally and by his performance. Early on in camp, he compared the position of Mike LB to being the QB of the defense. Langi spent hours studying the playbook and watching film of prior defensive stars at BYU, his goal was to master the defense so his teammates could trust him.
Langi has had an MVP-caliber performance in fall camp. His physicality and tenacity has shown on the defensive side of the ball. During last Saturday’s scrimmage, Langi was consistently in the backfield. One play that stuck out was when he put FB Francis Bernard on his back and sacked Taysom Hill, Langi also has a nose for the ball and finishes plays until the whistle blows. This type of leadership is what BYU will need if they want to see an improved defense in 2015.
A Loaded Receiving Core
As mentioned above, Taysom has several weapons that he can throw the ball to: Mitch Mathews, Nick Kurtz, Mitchell Juergens, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Colby Pearson, Kurt Henderson, Terenn Houk, Devon Blackmon, Trey Dye, and Rickey Shumway all looked impressive in fall camp and will have various impacts for the offense throughout the season.
Mathews was held out for a portion of fall camp while recovering from surgery on an inguinal hernia. Nick Kurtz took advantage of Mathews’ omission and developed significant chemistry with Taysom. While Mathews was the number one receiver for the team last year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kurtz would be able to surpass him. Kurtz was very impressive during fall camp last year, but a fractured foot sidelined him for the season. The offseason gave Kurtz an opportunity to develop physically ad he looked much more impressive physically.
Solidifying the Offensive Line
The 2015 version for the Cougars has one of the most talented offensive lines that the program has seen in recent years. The leader of the group is Freshman All-American Tejan Koroma and he’s surrounded by a cast who has 69 career starts in Ryker Mathews, Kyle Johnson, Tuni Kanuch, and Ului Lapuaho. All five starters saw significant playing time last year, the issue has been rounding out the rotation with the last 2-3 players.
Through fall camp, four players that have emerged are Parker Dawe, Austin Hoyt, Brad Wilcox, and Manu Mulitalu. Dawe and Mulitalu will rotate on the inside while Hoyt and Wilcox will fill in at the tackle spots. Don’t be surprised if Lapuaho and Kyle Johnson are moved around a bit as well to help solidify the rotation. With the up-tempo offense that BYU runs, starters aren’t able to play every snap and still have an impact.
One of the major issues was finding a back up to Koroma. During camp, the battle was between Dawe and Jacob Jimenez, with Kyle Johnson snapping the ball as well. It wasn’t until the second scrimmage that Dawe was able to separate himself and establish his role as a back up to Koroma.
Looking Forward to Nebraska
With the completion of Fall Camp, the team will now look toward their season opener against Nebraska. When asked about his preparation, Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said, “[The final day] has been my favorite practice of Fall Camp. The team looked really good offensively and defensively, really competitive. Healthy players looking fast and I have a sense of optimism heading into Nebraska. Tomorrow, we will start looking toward our opponent.”
Bronco also said, “I haven’t spent anytime on Nebraska yet. My staff has done some initial background work and etcetera, but I work much better focusing on our team first and now that I have some idea of where our team is, I can take a look.”
Taysom Hill was asked about fall camp and he said, “As a team, this is the best fall camp I’ve been apart of. I may be a little biased because I’m a senior. I love our team, I think we’re extremely unified and we’ve battled hard but we’re excited to start preparing for Nebraska.”
When asked what he thought of Nebraska, Hill said, “They are very big, physical, it’s hard to beat a team like that on the road. But what we’ve seen from us as a team, I think we’re very capable of it. We know what we have ahead of us and we’re looking forward to it.”
Nebraska should be the toughest season opener that the Cougars will face since opening against Oklahoma in 2009. The team has won 7 out of the last 8 season openers and as the countdown to Lincoln winds down, they will continue their preparation.
A full depth chart will be released on Monday after practice.
Follow Zak on twitter for updates on BYU @zakhicken
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