BYU football: What is BYU’s biggest concern as spring camp winds down?

Head coach Kalani Sitake, talks with media after the BYU Cougars football team practiced in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Head coach Kalani Sitake, talks with media after the BYU Cougars football team practiced in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. The Cougars will be wrapping up spring practices this week.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

One week after an open scrimmage and alumni game, Kalani Sitake will wind down spring practice this week with three sessions, concluding on Friday. The biggest story has been new defensive coordinator Jay Hill’s work in transforming the defense and the building depth of the QB room in the absence of veteran Jaren Hall. 

You can read Jay Drew’s piece on the defensive line here.

Cougar Insiders predictions

Question of the week: As spring practice winds down this week, what would you consider the biggest areas of concern for BYU football?

Jay Drew: The transfer portal window opens April 15 — this Saturday — and runs through April 30, and one can bet that the BYU coaching staff will start watching for capable receivers and linebackers. In my opinion, those are the Cougars’ biggest areas of concern — places where they need some immediate help.

They are especially thin and inexperienced at linebacker, especially if studs such as Ben Bywater, Max Tooley and Chaz Ah You don’t return from offseason surgeries at full strength. Beyond those three, there is a fairly big hole, although it could be plugged soon if rumors are true that USU linebacker AJ Vongphachanh is interested in joining the program. He’s been spotted at several BYU practices this spring.

Another area that appears shaky is placekicking. The Cougars have Justen Smith, Boise State transfer Will Ferrin and walk-on returned missionary Matthias Dunn in camp this spring, but none of those three guys have been impressive. Special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga told me last week that he’s confident they are going to be OK in the kicking game. Time will tell.

Dick Harmon: The transfer portal looms big for BYU’s football staff and I expect anywhere from five to eight new faces will be signed when players report June 26. The kicking game has struggled this spring and while Will Ferrin and Justen Smith were brought in to shore things up, it has been walk-on Matthias Dunn who has impressed with a strong 51-yard field goal in a recent practice. He might be the guy.

It was evident last year that linebackers Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar were not the same after undergoing offseason surgery. Ultimately their frustrations built up and Pili transferred to Tennessee and Wilgar declared for the NFL draft, which is April 27-29. I think Jay Hill could use two more linebackers but with the 4-2-5 basic defense, two linebackers are deployed rather than four as in the 3-4 front. Also, I think Hill will use hybrid safety/linebacker types like Chaz Ah You and Ammon Hannemann in alignment with Max Tooley and Ben Bywater. I think a priority is a gap shooter defensive lineman to complement the current two-gap trained linemen. He’ll go after a linebacker, corner and wide receiver, but honestly, I think Hill might just look at the portal and decide he will take as many “athletes” as he can get, then position them.

Building up depth for the Big 12 is imperative, and it has to be quality depth. Look for Justin Ena, Kelly Poppinga and Hill to use their backgrounds with former players and recruits in high school to find some LB reinforcements.

Cougar tales

Mark Pope is chasing talent in hopes of bringing in immediate help before Big 12 play begins. Here is Jeff Call’s roundup of those efforts.

Remember volleyball coach Carl McGowan? Here’s a trip down memory lane from Tom Ripplinger.

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

AI ranking of all-time college football teams (@CFBRep)

Freshman Anderson on a streak (@gregwrubell)

Prospect from Jimmer town recruited (@JonRothstein)

Extra points

Players explain their emotions of entering LES (Deseret News)

BYU recruiting tall Egyptian hoops star (Vanquish the Foe)

Hall prepares for NFL team visits (KSL Sports)


Comments from Deseret News readers:

I am the first to admit that I am not a Utah fan, don’t root for them at all. However, the Big 12 could very much use Utah’s athletics program. I am not a BYU fan either, but it would be great to see Utah in the Big 12. Their football is top notch, basketball is back on the climb I think, baseball has improved a ton. So as for the Big three of sports, they would be a great addition to an already great basketball and baseball conference, and I think an average to above average football conference. I think Utah could walk into the Big 12 and win the conference in football. As much as it pains me and makes me feel nauseous to say that. It’s true.

People need to get off their political sports wagons and recognize success in sports outside of just simple loyalty. Be a fan, it’s important, but give props where props are due. And Utah’s athletic programs are solid, and as much as BYU fans hate to hear it. Especially in football.

— What_Huh

In today’s collegiate environment, if you are not competitive as far as NIL (name, image and likeness opportunities) is concerned you will be hard pressed to ever field a competitive team.

I get BYU’s conservative nature, but if you’re not all in, I’m not sure you should be in at all. Simply belonging to a P5 conference without being competitive will not sit well with Cougar fans for long.

I feel badly for Pope because it appears that his hands are tied as to who he can recruit.

— Bazian31

Up next

April 13-15 | TBA | Baseball | vs. Santa Clara | @Santa Clara, California
April 14-15 | TBA | Softball | vs. Loyola Marymount | @Los Angeles
April 12 | TBA | Men’s golf | Western Intercollegiate | @San Jose, California
April 13 | TBA | Track and field | Pacific Coast Intercollegiate | @Long Beach, California
April 13-14 | TBA | Track and field | Bryan Clay Invitational | @Azusa, California
April 14-15 | TBA | Track and field | Beach Invitational | @Long Beach, California
April 15 | TBA | Track and field | Mt. Sac Relays | @Walnut, California

BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill watches players during opening day of BYU spring camp at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility.

BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility in Provo, on Monday, March 6, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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