COUGAR TRACKS

Harper: What I’m Watching For At BYU Football Fall Camp

Aug 3, 2022, 5:08 PM
BYU Football, Kalani Sitake...
BYU football opens up fall camp. Here are some things Mitch Harper will be watching for. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
(Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah РBYU football offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick knows the challenge in front of the 2022 edition of the Cougars.

“The challenge is living up to the expectation,” Roderick said to KSL Sports.

“You know, in the past couple of years, it was playing with a chip on our shoulder to prove something. Whether it was the COVID year or it was last year. …We played with that chip on our shoulder to prove that we were good. We’ve proven we’re good,” said Roderick. “So now the challenge is, can we do it again? Can you live up to the expectation that people have for you and that you have for yourself? I’m excited about that. I’d much rather be in this position, though, than going into a season with a bunch of question marks and doubts.”

BYU football has gone from a team mired in mediocrity in the early years under Kalani Sitake. To now is a team that has produced 21 wins in two seasons and is gearing up for a new era in the Big 12 Conference.

It’s a significant change. But the expectations have heightened from simply getting to six wins for Sitake to earn a contract extension. Sitake is locked in as BYU’s headman and the staff under him, with Roderick leading the offense, all returns. They are one of only five coaching staff’s in college football to bring everyone back for the 2022 season.

Where will BYU go from here? Fall camp practices will begin to paint that picture for the 2022 season and beyond.

The first practice of Camp Kalani kicks off on Thursday afternoon.

Here are some of the things I will be watching for during Camp Kalani this month.

1. New wrinkles to the offense

BYU could have one of the best offenses in college football this season. Led by quarterback Jaren Hall, BYU football averaged 33.1 points per game last season. With all the returning talent that’s back, plus Cal transfer Christopher Brooks filling the big shoes left behind by Tyler Allgeier, it’s not unreasonable to think BYU improves on that number.

But what wrinkles will BYU throw into the offense that could see that number go higher? BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick is always looking for ways to evolve. So during the media observation portions of practice, it will be interesting to see what potential changes Roderick throws into his offense.

2. Jacob Conover

Camp Kalani 2022 is the first time in five years that BYU enters a season without any quarterback battle or manufactured debate. Jaren Hall is the clear-cut starter. Who is behind him? That would be third-year freshman Jacob Conover.

 

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Conover earned the second-string job in spring practices. Being the backup QB wouldn’t seem to be a spotlight role entering camp on the surface, but this is a big camp for Conover. It’s an opportunity for him to prove that he’s the QB of the future when BYU kicks off life in the Big 12 in 2023. Assuming Jaren Hall isn’t back for another season.

Conover has all the talent to become the next starting quarterback for the BYU football program. After spring practices this past April, Conover admitted that he dealt with anxiety last season. However, he felt that he conquered that in spring ball.

Aaron Roderick had nothing but high praise for the work Conover put in during spring practices.

3. Newcomers 

Camp Kalani is always a great spot to get a first glimpse at the newcomers at BYU. Some newcomers I’m intrigued by include Vanderbilt transfer cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally. Jeudy-Lally comes to BYU with a unique story. He’s a scholar off the field and a starting cornerback in the SEC on the field.

Jeudy-Lally has expressed how grateful he is to be at BYU already. This off-season was at times challenging for Jeudy-Lally as he has family living in Ukraine through the war with Russia.

He gives Jernaro Gilford’s cornerback room another starter to go along with D’Angelo Mandell and Kaleb Hayes.

Another newcomer to keep an eye out for at cornerback is Korbyn Green. Out of the freshmen signees BYU added in February, Green has the best skill set to make an impact right away potentially. But Gilford will create the opportunity for all the new DBs to compete immediately.

BYU has a pair of linebacker/edge rushers coming back from missions that will be intriguing to watch for in Bodie Schoonover and Tate Romney. Both players are going to be key factors for BYU in the future.

Preston Rex is a versatile athlete that will compete at safety. Rex, the younger brother to tight end Isaac, came back from a mission and has put in a lot of work to be ready physically for camp.

The speed from former Roy High QB Parker Kingston could be hard to keep off the field. Kingston will compete in the loaded wide receiver room, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he earns some opportunity in the return game.

4. Health of Keenan Pili, Isaac Rex, Payton Wilgar

The health status of players such as linebackers Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar, along with tight end Isaac Rex, will be areas of focus. All three players are potential NFL draft picks in the future and have been critical to BYU’s success the past two seasons.

Kalani Sitake said that Rex is “mentally ready” to go for camp but also noted, “we’re¬†going to have to just really be smart with keeping him on a good pitch count.” Rex suffered a leg injury against USC last season.

Pili had a season-ending ACL injury against Arizona State last year, drastically changing how BYU’s defense operated a season ago. Payton Wilgar played in 10 games, but he was dealing with a nagging shoulder injury that prevented him from playing at his best.

Wilgar had shoulder surgery in the off-season.

The good news for BYU this year is that they have the depth behind these guys to withstand any potential setbacks. But when Rex, Pili, and Wilgar are healthy, it only strengthens BYU’s chances of another memorable year.

5. Key personnel along the BYU football defensive line

The defensive line is an intriguing spot for BYU entering camp. Everyone returns from last year’s group except Uriah Leiataua.

At the defensive end spot, look for the following players to compete (listed alphabetically): Tyler Batty, Fisher Jackson, Blake Mangelson, Aisea Moa, Alema Pilimai, Alden Tofa, Earl Tuioti-Mariner.

 

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If the season started today, the starters probably would be Batty and Mariner. Batty gives BYU the best chance of producing a 10-plus individual sack leader. BYU hasn’t had a player do that since 2015. Earl Mariner’s return to take advantage of a COVID season is an underrated piece to this defensive line. He’s one of the better pass rushers on the team, but he has dealt with many injuries in his career. A cousin to former BYU defensive lineman Travis Tuiloma, Mariner could be the guy that makes the most significant jump this season.

In the interior of the defensive line, BYU brings back Gabe Summers, who players and coaches call “Gumby” for his flexibility. In addition, Atunaisa Mahe returns after being sidelined in spring due to injury and experienced Caden Haws is back as well.

John Nelson is an underclassman who could take a big step forward along the defensive front this year. Watch for him and Joshua Larsen. Larsen has transformed his body into a player that is now 6-foot-4, 300-pounds.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12‚Äď3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter:¬†@Mitch_Harper.

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