SALT LAKE CITY — As preseason practice begins for the BYU football team, the vast majority of the attention from the public perspective is on the quarterback position.
At BYU, a program known for developing prolific passers, the quarterbacks usually draw most of the interest. But this year is different based on sheer numbers.
Most college programs without a definite starter begin training camp with two quarterbacks — three at the most — competing to win the job. The Cougars start camp with at least four players vying to play the game’s most important position.
Speculation is running rampant on the competition, with each of the candidates offering enough attributes to be considered serious contenders. The sooner the better, coach Kalani Sitake and his new staff of coaches on offense desperately need one player to emerge.
The longer the battle extends into August, the more ominous it is for the team’s prospects at success. Don’t fall for the argument that a lengthy race equates to a hotly contested competition — it only means nobody has been good enough to command the position.
At this point, the competitors are senior Tanner Mangum, junior Beau Hoge, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshman Zach Wilson with recently returned missionary Jaren Hall possibly in the mix. Who you got?
“From what I’ve seen I would be surprised if Tanner wasn’t the starting quarterback in that first game against Arizona,” said Dustin Smith, co-founder Quarterback Elite, which trains quarterbacks.
Smith has worked with several of the BYU quarterbacks over the years, including extensively with Mangum this summer. He believes Mangum, who has lost 20 pounds in the offseason, is primed for a big comeback after a miserable junior year that was marred by ineffectiveness and multiple injuries.
Mangum has the most experience, having played in relief of an injured Taysom Hill three years ago and then late in the 2016 season after Hill went down again. Hoge and Critchlow, who ended last season as the starter, saw some time last year.
”I’m very hopeful for Tanner,” Smith said in an interview DJ and PK on 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “He looks much better than he did last year at this time. He seems to be extremely motivated to end this thing on a positive note.”
With his background, Smith has insight beyond the usual camp teacher. He started the quarterback training in 2011 along with Ty Detmer, who coached Mangum the last two seasons before getting fired last November.
To stay in compliance with NCAA rules, Detmer stepped away from the business during his two years as BYU’s offensive coordinator. Through his relationship with Detmer, Smith has more of an insider look at the BYU quarterback situation.
He readily admits the quarterbacks last year had trouble grasping Detmer’s schemes. Those issues, Smith said, contributed to Mangum’s struggles.
Smith sees this season’s schemes, coordinated by new coaches Jeff Grimes and Aaron Roderick, as being more similar to Robert Anae’s offense that Mangum succeeded in as a freshman. The same goes for the other quarterbacks, Smith said.
“The thing that was most disappointing for Ty last year wasn’t necessarily their physical abilities,” he said, “it was just the difficulty in picking up what he had hoped they’d pick up and execute on the field.”
Speaking at an alumni function last week in Cedar City, assistant head coach Ed Lamb called Critchlow “a big-time quarterback in every way,” according to the St. George Spectrum & Daily News. “I think Joe will be one of the great quarterbacks at BYU before it’s all said and done.”
Lamb seemed to indicate the competition primarily will be between Critchlow, who played well in the spring game, and Mangum. He said BYU is open to moving Hoge to another position.
“I still think it’s up for grabs there,” Smith said, “but I would be very surprised if Tanner wasn’t the guy to start and everybody is fighting for that second spot.”