Five Burning Questions For BYU Football During 2021 Spring Practice
PROVO, Utah – BYU football spring practices are here. Can you believe it? It feels like it sneaks up earlier each year, but it’s become an annual tradition for BYU to get spring ball rolling on the first Monday of March.
After an 11-1 season in 2020, there is a lot for BYU football to be excited about as it produced the highest final AP ranking in 24 years. But questions remain if BYU wants to prove that last year’s national success was not just a byproduct of a COVID-impacted schedule.
Instead, a launching point for a new era of annual success in Provo.
As the sixth spring ball opens up in the Kalani Sitake era, here are five burning questions I have with camp opening up.
1. Who will replace Zach Wilson at quarterback?
You knew this was going to be number one. There’s nothing else that can top it. Any quarterback battle at BYU is a huge story. It’s even bigger when replacing a top-five NFL Draft pick in Zach Wilson, and it’s a room that might produce the best battle since Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon vied for the starting gig under LaVell Edwards in 1978.
Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall are the most experienced in the room. Both have started in two games during their careers. Romney had the best win with an upset over nationally-ranked Boise State in 2019. Jaren Hall produced one of the best halves of football BYU saw from a quarterback in 2019. That came against Utah State. But Hall, a former Maple Mountain High School standout, hasn’t completed as a game as a starter.
Hall ditched the baseball glove and bat to be committed to football full-time. Will it pay off with the starting job? He’s healthy and ready to compete after being out all of last year due to a hip injury.
There are a pair of young quarterbacks who will factor into the mix: former Elite 11 prospects Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters. Conover might be the most intriguing of the bunch. Conover turned down Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide to play for his beloved Cougars, a diehard BYU fan growing up.
Conover enrolled last September and was able to take advantage of the NCAA’s free eligibility last year due to the pandemic. The former Chandler, Arizona star ran the scout team and had his fair share of success against a first-team BYU defense last year that finished in the top 10 in total defense.
Maiava-Peters was given opportunities during last year’s fall camp to run the first-team offense, and he’s a versatile athlete that can make plays with both his arm and his feet.
It’s probably unlikely someone gets named the clear-cut starter out of spring ball. But don’t be surprised if the list of four gets trimmed down.
2. What will BYU’s offense look like with Aaron Roderick?
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake promoted Aaron Roderick from passing game coordinator to offensive coordinator hours after Jeff Grimes took the OC job at Baylor. After a season where BYU had one of the top offenses in the country, what’s the follow-up act?
The goal of BYU’s retooled offensive staff is that much of the same product can happen again. Roderick was heavily involved in BYU’s collaborative effort with Grimes on the offensive staff. A-Rod has a wealth of experience as an offensive coordinator from his days at Utah.
Kalani Sitake is giving Roderick the autonomy to run his offense as he sees fit. Expect a balanced attack with a passing game that wants to stretch the field through the air.
3. What can be expected from the new BYU Football assistant coaches?
Grimes and Eric Mateos leaving for Baylor created two openings on BYU’s 10-man coaching staff under Kalani Sitake. Sitake hired BYU senior analyst and former Oregon State defensive coordinator Kevin Clune to coach the linebackers. Clune volunteered last season as an analyst and was involved in the program all fall.
He inherits a linebacker room that features rising talents Keenan Pili, Payton Wilgar, Max Tooley, and Drew Jensen. Clune should be a seamless fit as he is in lockstep with how Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki want to operate on the defensive side.
With Clune hired on defense, it ensured that both sides of the ball would have five assistants. Aaron Roderick hired an offensive line coach with a wealth of experience in Darrell Funk. Funk has been in coaching for 33 years and, according to Sitake, already knows BYU’s offense after numerous conversations with Roderick in the hiring process.
4. What other positions will have heated battles?
The quarterback position will garner all of the headlines, but BYU will have competitions taking place all over the field. Along the offensive line, who replaces consensus All-American Brady Christensen? Blake Freeland and Harris LaChance are players to keep an eye out for. Keanu Saleapaga returns after a year mired with injuries. Saleapaga has starter experience at tackle and guard.
On the defensive side, big shoes need to be filled at safety, with Troy Warner and Zayne Anderson moving on to professional football. Chaz Ah You returns from a lower leg injury that he had surgery on last season. Malik Moore is someone that coaches see a ton of potential in. Hayden Livingston, a former quarterback in high school and game one starter in 2019, returns.
5. Which young players could make a difference in spring ball?
Spring football is a great opportunity for young players to get a chance to develop and get reps. New faces that have a chance to make a name for themselves in spring typically have better odds of contributing in the fall.
Here are some new faces that I believe could show flashes of their potential in spring ball.
- Campbell Barrington, OT
- Jacques Wilson, CB (Coming back from injury)
- Oliver Nasilai, RB/LB
- Talan Alfrey, DB
- Isaac Matua, LB
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.
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