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BYU Football: As Spring Drills Close Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson Lead Quarterback Race

April 11, 2010

James Lark, Riley Nelson, and Jake Heaps dropback in the final day of spring drills

Other than his very first season this may have been the spring practice session with the most questions in the Bronco Mendenhall era.  So what has been decided?

Pretty much nothing.

I’m not really surprised though as I think it would have taken perfection for someone to really run away with any of the jobs that are on the table.  We all knew it would go to fall camp before decisions were made at the major positions.

The biggest question that is still left unanswered is who will be the starting quarterback.  Let’s take a look at how the three candidates fared in the spring.

Jake Heaps completed 62 of 105 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns.

Riley Nelson completed 29 of 51 passes for 389 yards and five touchdowns.

James Lark completed 27 of 46 passes for 253 and no touchdowns.

About a week ago Bronco made a point of saying that Lark was taking a slight backseat to the other two, and that is somewhat evident in the numbers.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the disparity in passing attempts between Heaps and Nelson.  We know that they are considered to be at the same level and that they are receiving roughly the same number of snaps.

Keeping that in mind I think there is two things we might draw from the numbers, though it would take more information to know which one is more accurate.

Either the offense is more pass based when Heaps is in there as opposed to Nelson, or Nelson is much quicker to run the ball when he gets under pressure.

I would venture to guess that it is a combination of the two.

The coaching staff is well aware of the fact that Heaps is the better thrower, while Nelson is the better runner.  It only makes sense to play to their strengths when they are in the game.

At this point it has become a two horse race, and I think it will come down to a matter of preference when the decisions get made. 

If they want the more mobile quarterback they will go with Nelson.  If they want the stronger passer they will go with Heaps.

If it were my decision to make I would go with Heaps because the running game is very well established with Harvey Unga anchoring the offense, and Joshua Quezada surprising everyone with his natural talent.

Quezada comes at the perfect time if you ask me.  Much the same way that Unga benefited from a year around Curtis Brown Quezada can learn from an experienced player who knows how to succeed from day one.

Remember Unga has rushed for 1000 yards in all three seasons thus far, and will likely make it four this season.

It looks like we will be replacing two senior tight-ends with a group of freshmen.  Currently on campus are Mike Muehlmann, Devin Mahina, and Marcus Matthews (who broke his ankle last week).  Joining them this fall will be Bryan Sampson and Austin Holt.

They will be a very young, but very talented group.  Based on the quality group of tight-ends that have come through Provo in recent years I am not overly concerned.  We run a system that involves the tight-end so much, but at the same time does not put the pressure on them. 

That is the beauty of this system in general, outside of the quarterback, everyone else just has to fill their assignment and take their shots when the opportunity comes.  It doesn’t put too much stress on any one player to take over, especially when they are new.

What was a young offensive line last season should be even better this season with a little more experience, and that will be crucial to this team’s success especially with a new quarterback.

Much the same as with the tight-ends, I rarely worry about the offensive line as BYU also seems to recruit quality players that play well above their star level when they work as a unit.

On defense the linebacker corps appears to have remained a strong point of the unit.   There will be quite a few new and young names on the squad but they have looked good thus far.

Jameson Frazier was described by Bronco, “as maybe the biggest surprise (of spring drills). He went from a special teams contributor to possibly a starter through this spring. And he’s not one getting it by default. He’s really played well.”

That is the kind of thing I love to hear about.  The junior linebacker has worked his butt off to earn his spot.  It is so nice to hear about a young man earning his spot through hard work and determination.

True freshman Kyle Van Noy has been exhibiting his speed in practice and is quickly learning what it means to be part of an elite program.

Two other freshmen, Zac Stout and Austen Jorgensen, will compete for a spot at linebacker this fall. 

Brandon Ogletree and Aveni Leung-Wai have become defensive leaders at the middle linebacker spot rounding out what appears to once again be the strong spot on the defense.

For the first time in I don’t know how long not much has been said about the defensive secondary.  I realize that there are still some questions to be answered there, but at least it is not the glaring hole that it has been in years past.

All in all I am extremely excited about where this team is going into the summer and fall. 

There are still major questions to be answered, but Bronco and his staff have shown the ability to make the right call almost all of the time, and I have no reason to think that this season will be any different.

It is still a great time to be a BYU Cougar football fan!

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