PROVO — When BYU enjoyed its most successful seasons from an offensive standpoint under coach Bronco Mendenhall, there were at least two common denominators.
First, Robert Anae was the offensive coordinator. Second, there was stability at the quarterback position.
Well, Anae is back in his old role, eager to install an offense that he vowed will "go fast and go hard." As for the quarterback spot? That could be a work in progress.
The Cougars open spring practices Monday, and while BYU boasted one of the top defenses in the nation last season, it also fielded an offense that lacked a clear identity and struggled to score points consistently, prompting Mendenhall to change the entire offensive coaching staff.
No doubt, the Cougars' overall success — dating back to the 1970s — is inextricably linked to quarterback success. And over the coming weeks and months, developing QBs will be one of the program's top priorities as Mendenhall looks to replace Riley Nelson and James Lark, who have graduated.
Sophomore Taysom Hill, who won both of his starts last year before suffering a knee injury midway through the season, is healthy enough to participate in spring ball. But the coaching staff will be cautious with him.
"Our biggest challenge with Taysom is holding him back," Mendenhall said. "He's ahead of schedule. He wants to keep pushing, he wants to compete in everything, he wants to win everything. Continually the words out of our trainer and our offensive staff is, 'Take it slower, back off.' That's really not part of his personality. … He's going to be able to do quite a bit. At this point, no contact (drills). But the majority of non-contact things, he'll be able to participate in."
Hill, senior Jason Munns, sophomore Ammon Olsen, and freshmen Billy Green and Tanner Mangum will all get their share of reps, Mendenhall said. After spring ball, Mangum will serve a mission.
"We'd like to give (Mangum) enough looks to assess ability and make sure he gets integrated before he goes on his mission," Mendenhall said. "That obviously takes a little bit of a back seat in terms of urgency to finding a starter and establishing a backup."
Mendenhall would love to be able to name a starter by the end of spring, but he said that may not happen.
"I'm not sure if it's possible because of Taysom not being 100 percent healthy," Mendenhall said. "But we'd like to see all players on the offensive side through fresh lenses. It's a new coaching staff coming in, and I've asked them to view our players as if they hadn't seen them before and allow what they've seen through the off-season, which has been very difficult and very challenging, so that's been weighted very heavily. A lot of how the players will start out in spring will be based on how diligently they worked in the off-season."
Mendenhall said he has three overall goals for spring practices: ensuring that his team is "completely united," installing the new offense and shoring up the special teams.
"There will be more emphasis on punting and kicking this spring than there has been in the past, as we lose (punter) Riley Stephenson and after (placekicker) Justin Sorensen's struggles a year ago," the coach said.
Mendenhall has altered the structure of spring ball, with practices being held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, giving players and coaches a day-long break between each session.
"That gives us meeting times in between, to make sure each practice has a better chance of being truly productive," Mendenhall said. "That should help Taysom as well."
Over the years, the Cougars have been very thin on the offensive line during spring ball. Once again, BYU will be missing several scholarship O-linemen this spring. Mendenhall said starting left tackle Ryker Mathews and reserve lineman Brock Stringham won't participate due to injuries and surgeries, and that center Blair Tushaus has decided to transfer. Manaaki Vaitai will take the majority of snaps at center.
"We added a high number of junior college offensive linemen for that very reason, so we have enough bodies," said Mendenhall, whose team will add six offensive linemen, including freshmen and junior college transfers, in the fall. "We might be able to have a three-deep, actually, which we haven't had in the spring for quite some time."
In other personnel news, tight end Austin Holt will move to the defensive line. Defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi will re-join the football team after basketball season is over, while freshman Jacob Hannemann, a starter on the baseball team, will split his time between baseball and football, Mendenhall said.
The Cougars will conduct a spring scrimmage open to the public at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, March 30, at 11 a.m.
"I don't anticipate many full scrimmages, maybe just a single full scrimmage," Mendenhall said. "But we're going to be working very hard installing, working against each other and working at a very high level."
Spring drills are scheduled to conclude on April 5.
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