There is a different vibe at BYU’s spring camp practices these days, unlike years past when nobody was 100% certain who the starting quarterback would be, even when Zach Wilson was around.
This year, Jaren Hall is clearly the man. Nobody else is even close.
That was again apparent in the media-viewing portion of Monday’s practice, officially the Cougars’ seventh practice of 2022 spring camp.
Hall threw some over-the-middle passes to Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua that were on time and on target and showed he is already in midseason form.
“He looks like he is really starting to own the offense, and you feel good about it when you see him talking to the other players and giving them advice and kinda being another coach out there, whereas in years past he has been trying to learn it and get it down,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “I feel like he is really in a good zone right now.”
Tight end Dallin Holker agreed. Getting more work this spring because starting tight end Isaac Rex is out after suffering a major ankle/foot injury in the win over USC last November, Holker marveled after practice at Hall’s readiness level.
“He is so much fun to play with,” Holker said. “He puts the ball right where it is supposed to be, almost every time.”
Actually, the entire first-team offense looks really good — bolstered by transfers Chris Brooks and Houston Heimuli at the tailback and fullback positions, respectively.
Word is that the offense has been quite a bit ahead of the defense right now, which is to be expected considering key defenders such as linebackers Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar are not doing anything at all this spring, except coaching.
“Good practice today, really upbeat, a lot of physical contact. We were in full pads so we had some tackling early on today, had some live work,” Sitake said. “We will see how it looks on film, but I thought the defense caught up real quick this week and they have been able to do that the last couple of practices.”
Bottom line, Sitake said, is that he is “really, really happy with what I have seen so far in the first seven practices of spring.”
Led by Hall, the fifth-year junior, of course.
“He is making really, really good decisions,” Sitake said. “I am really excited for this fall for him. The stuff I have seen in the spring is going to be really promising for what we are going to see in the fall.”
Sitake’s cousin, receivers coach Fesi Sitake, said the final bits of the offense were installed Monday.
“Now we can be a little more intentional with certain things,” Fesi Sitake said. “We can do what we want to get done, feature certain guys, certain plays. It is all in now, and we can move this back half of spring camp with a little more purpose on stuff we want to get done every day.”
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick has said he wants to identify the backup quarterback as quickly as possible — Jacob Conover, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and Cade Fennegan are the candidates — but Kalani Sitake said Monday the competition is too close to call.
All four of the aforementioned quarterbacks got reps in the final 20 minutes of practice Monday, and the three backups had their moments, but also struggled with accuracy.
Defensive back Kaleb Hayes deflected a Maiava-Peters pass that Matthew Criddle intercepted. Fennegan threw a nice pass to Brayden Cosper and another to Holker, but it was dropped. Brooks, fifth-year senior Lopini Katoa and Jackson McChesney got the bulk of the carries, with Brooks looking like a freight train, Katoa looking quicker than last year and McChesney making a nice cut-back run that he probably would have scored on.
“I thought that we would have more of an idea around now, but it just goes to show how the other guys are all competing,” Kalani Sitake said. “Sol-Jay has kinda crept in there, but Cade is doing some really good things and Jacob has gotten a lot better since the end of last year. Yeah, they are making it really hard for us to decide on it.”
Kalani Sitake said coaches “have an idea” of which players will emerge as starters, but he spoke as if nothing will be announced at the end of spring.
“It is just a matter of guys solidifying (spots), but I don’t know if they need to do that right now in the spring,” he said. “I think we got plenty of time. We will see how it goes into the fall.”
Meanwhile, the coaching staff continues to bolster the roster, particularly on defense. Roman Rashada, a defensive back from Diablo Valley (California) College, announced on social media Sunday night that he has committed to play for the Cougars. The 6-foot-1 190-pounder visited Provo last week with two of his brothers who are also being recruited by various major college programs.
Roman Rashada has three years to play two.
His brother, Jaden Rashada, is a five-star quarterback in high school who graduates in 2023.
Jaden Rashada gave BYU fans hope that he is at least interested in BYU with a tweet following his brother’s commitment that said, among other things, “maybe we will suit up together soon.”
Also over the weekend, BYU defensive back Shamon Willis announced he is taking a medical retirement. He becomes the second Cougar to go that route this spring, joining offensive lineman Tysen Lewis.
Willis, the son of former BYU running back Jamal Willis, started his career at Weber State and transferred to BYU before the 2019 season. He played in 19 games the past three seasons.
BYU’s Indoor Practice Facility was packed with potential recruits Monday, as high school players and teams lined up along the east sidelines to watch the action.
“Yeah, a lot of groups are coming in, and a lot of recruits want to see us and want to be here,” Kalani Sitake said. “A good number of them are coming from out of state on their spring break to visit us, and so it has been really cool to have these young men come on unofficial (visits) and have their families involved. So we are going to keep doing this as much as we can, trying to get an upper hand in recruiting.”