PROVO — Reduced in half, the competition to win the starting quarterback position for BYU is now down to two players.
Although the coaches have not said as much publicly, either Tanner Mangum or Zach Wilson will start the first game at Arizona on Sept. 1. As it stands, Mangum holds a slight lead over Wilson after nearly a week of training camp.
In the most recent media availability in practice, Mangum and Wilson were the primary quarterbacks to play during the scrimmage portion. Jaren Hall took snaps with the third-team offense.
The coaches are holding off naming a starter or even a depth chart for the quarterbacks, in part to possibly avoid tipping off Arizona ahead of time. They may keep the information under wraps publicly until game time.
“You can probably guess on it a little bit, but I think we’re starting to see guys emerge,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “We haven’t found a starter yet, but I think guys are stepping up and starting to improve.”
Four quarterbacks went into the offseason in contention. Joe Critchlow, who ended last season as the starter, remains in the hunt, while Beau Hoge has moved to running back. Hall returned from a church mission after spring practice.
The plan was to narrow the competition to two quarterbacks as early as possible during preseason practice. Ideally, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and passing coordinator Aaron Roderick would have close to two weeks to choose the starter.
Said Grimes, “We are putting different guys with different groups at different times and on different days. Like one day, somebody might be going with the first group at right tackle, or at slot receiver. And the next day it may be somebody else. So we are just working on a rotation.”
Taking each coach’s comments at face value, and recognizing their desire to remain coy, still it is safe to say either Mangum or Wilson will start. Critchlow is a safe option, but the staff is looking for a more dynamic player.
“I like what all three of them are doing,” Sitake said. “I see us progressing the right way. If we keep this up offensively, I’ll be really happy.”
Coming off a disastrous junior season riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness, Mangum has transformed his game to this point in practice. In addition to losing 20 pounds in the offseason, he has taken to the new staff’s offense.
Mangum never fully grasped Ty Detmer’s offense last season, often looking unsure and tentative on passing plays. As a second-year coordinator, Detmer had trouble translating his vast knowledge to Mangum, and the problem was compounded by having several coaches on the offensive staff also without much experience.
This year’s staff has considerable more coaching experience to draw upon. Several of them also have worked as offensive coordinators during points of their college coaching careers.
The intention is to have Mangum focus primarily on his play and not worry about the myriad of duties that are often placed on a quarterback. At times last season, assuming the role of a leader weighed too heavily upon Mangum.
Since arriving on campus in January, after graduating early from high school, Wilson has worked himself into strong contention to start. So far in camp, he has displayed a strong arm with a nice touch on his passing.
But the coaches are not particularly keen on starting a first-year freshman to begin the season, especially with having to play Arizona, California and Wisconsin in the first three games. At the same time, Wilson will start if he outperforms Mangum over the next several practices.
In going with Mangum, part of the thinking is it would be easier to insert Wilson if the offense struggles. The concern, should Wilson need to be replaced, is the senior might lose focus if he’s not named the starter.