BYU Football Opens Up Spring Practices To No Shortage Of Storylines

Feb 28, 2022, 7:42 PM | Updated: 10:12 pm

BYU Football - Jaren Hall...

BYU football quarterback Jaren Hall during day one of spring practice on February 28, 2022. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – The BYU football team is back to organized practices with spring ball kicking off at the Indoor Practice Facility on Monday.

Since BYU lost to UAB in the Independence Bowl back in December, Kalani Sitake’s program has been hard at work with winter conditioning. Now it shifts to the spring phase over the next five weeks, before they get a much-needed break in April.

BYU has no shortage of storylines entering the seventh season with Sitake as the head coach and its last campaign before moving to the Big 12 Conference in 2023.

Spring football has shifted to an educational phase for teams. This year,  the NCAA oversight committee passed new rules limiting contact in scrimmages earlier this year, limiting some of the physicality typically seen in spring scrimmages. But that also goes in lockstep with what Sitake wants out of spring.

Spring will provide a chance for BYU’s veteran players to remain dialed in on the plays and become leaders of the younger players.

The quarterback position is always in focus for BYU football

The quarterback position is a prime example of that. For the first time since 2017, there’s zero debate about who the starting quarterback will be for BYU. That would be Jaren Hall, who, despite missing three games due to injuries, proved to be ready for the task of filling the shoes left behind by Zach Wilson. Hall passed for 2,583 yards and had a four-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio in his first full season as BYU’s QB1.

During day one of spring practice in the limited media observation portion, Hall showed greater arm strength. The former baseball player has been training with QB Elite’s Dustin Smith and John Beck’s 3DQB in Southern California.

The questions at quarterback will be in the second unit. Baylor Romney has moved on from football to pursue a career with Adobe. So who takes on that No. 2 role? The battle will be between young signal-callers in Jacob Conover, Cade Fennegan, and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters.

Conover and Maiava-Peters have spent two whole years in Aaron Roderick’s quarterback room. Fennegan, the son to former BYU QB/DB Garth Fennegan, stood out on the scout team last year after transferring from Boise State.

“Quarterbacks are always going to have to battle for playing time,” said Kalani Sitake after Monday’s practice. “I thought overall the quarterbacks as a position group did really well today. I thought the timing that they had with the receivers…it helps when you have a bunch of receivers that can catch the ball like our guys.”

Who has the inside track to become RB1?

The running back position is an intriguing battle as BYU looks to find a ball carrier to replace Tyler Allgeier. The player returning with the most experience is Lopini Katoa. A super senior from American Fork, Katoa is entering his sixth year with the BYU football program. But last season saw Katoa’s role scale back due to some ball security issues. Does he bounce back in 2022?

He will have stiff competition for the RB1 spot, starting with Cal grad transfer Christopher Brooks. Brooks was the leading rusher at Cal in 2019 and was in a running back-by-committee the past two years while he navigated injuries.

Jackson McChesney is a top-shelf athlete who has had memorable moments in his limited game reps. Then there’s Miles Davis, who was a star of fall camp last year before suffering an injury that kept him out till the final month of last season.

“There’s a bunch of guys that can play that position,” said Sitake. “But [Brooks] looked really, really good today. I thought he and Lopini looked really nice. That whole group with McChesney –the whole group– is deep. But what I saw from Chris and the plays that he made. He can really fit our scheme.”

Don’t expect Sitake to be announcing the RB1 out of spring practice; he’s going to take his time and let the running back competition process play itself out. Likely well into fall camp.

“I’m not going to put a deadline on it,” Sitake said when asked by KSL Sports if he wants a starter to emerge or have a running back by committee. “I don’t know if you guys remember, there wasn’t like a deadline when Tyler [Allgeier] took as a starter. It just kind of happened. So maybe this will be the same way, but we’ll see.”

Changes to the defense

Through Kalani Sitake’s first five years leading the BYU football program, he and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki fielded top 50 defenses. Last season, despite the double-digit win total, the defense took a step back. BYU was 74th in total defense, allowing 388.2 yards per game, and 51st nationally in scoring defense at 24.7 points allowed.

Nearly everyone returns from a defense that took its share of criticisms. It will be an area that goes under the microscope in spring ball.

“Just get disruption and more big plays on defense,” said Sitake on the changes he and Ilaisa Tuiaki want from the defense in 2022. “I’ve been asking for that for a long time now. That’s the expectations that I have, but we want to stop people from scoring. So basically, everything is what I want.”

Sitake praised the defensive line and noted they would only improve from going up against BYU’s deep offensive line unit that welcomed veteran Keanu Saleapaga back into the fold.

BYU will practice three times per week over the next five weeks. Spring ball will conclude for BYU on March 31.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Football Opens Up Spring Practices To No Shortage Of Storylines