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BYU’s rookie QBs have miles to go

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PROVO — The gap between BYU senior quarterbacks and the rookies in camp is significant. It is unusual and glaring. You may call it the Ben Olson factor.

After seniors John and Jason Beck, there is freshman Max Hall, the transfer from Arizona State, and two others just off missions — Jacob Bower and Sam Doman. Then there's James Lark, right out of high school in St. George.

The two Becks appear to be light-years ahead of the pack in confidence, execution and knowledge, as expected. The newcomers, all pressing to show they belong somewhere in the pecking order, often overshoot their targets or throw at the shoestrings. But aside from mistakes, overexuberance and spikes of adrenaline, they did make plays on Monday.

In a perfect Cougar world, the two seniors would have Olson — or anybody — in the wings as a sophomore or junior to challenge them this and last year, but the Thousand Oaks, Calif., recruit transferred to UCLA following a redshirt freshman year in Provo and an LDS mission to Canada. He is a sophomore this season for the Bruins.

"I know this much," quarterback coach Brandon Doman said on Monday, "After Saturday's first practice, I told the rest of the coaches I have a lot more respect for the coaches who worked with me when I came off my mission.

"I didn't know anything. I thought I knew everything and I came out trying too hard, throwing balls in the dirt and over the heads of receivers. Every one of these new guys is exactly like I was — all trying to prove they belong — and it's hard. I've never coached a new guy and I suppose this is the norm."

Reports out of UCLA show Olson has had similar growing pains after his two-year absence from the game. In Provo, it's all new territory, unlike training days of old where the baton passes from Gifford Nielsen to Mark Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco were uninterrupted by any candidate taking two years away from the game.

Doman waited almost three seasons to get his chance. He led BYU to an MWC title in 2001. He is the first and only Cougar quarterback to have served an LDS mission and win a conference title as a starter. From now on, it appears every BYU quarterback in the program will be trying to match that, as all are athletes who have served or may plan on serving church missions.

Doman's coaching challenge is to prepare the two Becks for the opener at Arizona while teaching skills to the rookies to play on the Division I level. Hall may be ahead of the others with some Division I practice experience in the Pac-10.

Doman said he is lucky one of the Cougar graduate assistants is a perfect fit to help the newcomers. BYU hired former Boston College starting quarterback Paul Peterson, whose older brother Charlie Peterson played for the Cougars.

"He's very good," Doman said. "He knows what he's talking about. He's had a couple of years playing in the CFL. He's been coached and played at a high level and he is an awesome help. If I had to have all six of these guys to myself, that would be a big challenge. He's especially been a help during 7-on-7 drills and during our team segments against the defense. Any crossover period when I'm focusing most of my energy on John and Jason, he's stepping in and helping the new guys.

"During drill work, I just drill them all, just like I do John. I know the question is we've got these two old guys and then all these young guys and how am I going to get them ready to play next year? I don't know. We'll just do the best we can, see if Lark leaves for a mission, prepare Hall, who has had a taste of this at this level, and see how the others learn and who we may red-shirt.

"There's a little bit of parity and difference in all of them."

Doman said he doesn't foresee BYU being in this "gap" position again.

"Ben Olson's situation kind of created a gap," he said. "That's why we recruited so many quarterbacks. I wish we had more time, but we don't and next year one of them will have to start."

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com