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BYU hoping unproven playmakers can step up for offense

PROVO — As it enters the 2017 season, the BYU offense has to replace its top two rushers and top three receivers from last year.

Jamaal Williams (1,375 yards) and Taysom Hill (603 yards) comprised 75 percent of the Cougars’ rushing yards in 2016.

Meanwhile, Nick Kurtz (541 yards), Colby Pearson (384 yards) and Mitchell Juergens (333 yards) accounted for 48 percent of BYU’s receiving yardage.

The Cougars will try to fill those voids with a variety of playmakers, some more proven than others.

Coach Kalani Sitake isn’t concerned. “If we didn’t have talent,” he said, “I’d be really nervous.”

In the backfield, BYU is looking to running backs Squally Canada, Ula Tolutau, KJ Hall, Trey Dye, Riley Burt and Kavika Fonua. Canada ran 74 times for 315 yards in 2016, while KJ Hall rushed for 184 yards on 35 attempts.

At receiver, Jonah Trinnaman, who caught 28 passes for 331 yards last season, is the Cougars’ top returning receiver. Talon Shumway (three receptions for 49 yards), Aleva Hifo (11 catches for 58 yards), Akile Davis and Micah Simon will be counted on to contribute.

“It’s their time. Every year you have to replace certain positions,” Sitake said. “That’s just what happens. If you get a good group of talent and develop them, you should feel comfortable. We’re not lacking a lot of talent in different places. Maybe some depth, but the talent’s there. They just need to compete. Nothing is like playing in a game.”

Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer recalled his senior year as BYU’s quarterback, with his team having to replace a handful of prolific players.

“My junior year we had Andy Boyce, Chris Smith and Matt Bellini. Then we lose them all and everyone wonders who we have to work with,” Detmer said, explaining the emergence that next season of Eric Drage, Byron Rex and Jamal Willis. “Every year, guys are going to step up. We feel like we have some good young players because we had seniors in those spots last year were overshadowed. But they’re ready to go this year. It will be that way every year. We feel like there are guys in the program who can step up, make plays for us and be explosive. They just need some time.”

The Cougars are hoping to unleash their group of tight ends — Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Tanner Balderree and Matt Bushman. Laulu-Pututau, who played receiver last season, caught 27 passes for 277 yards in 2016, while Balderree had 13 receptions for 156 yards.

Detmer said the tight end position will be by committee but he’s optimistic that they will make a big impact.

“That’s the hope, that we can get those guys involved a little more and have them become a big part of the passing game as well as their responsibilities in the run game,” Detmer said.

“The group we have are athletic guys. Tanner and Hunter (Marshall) have experience from last year and Moroni does too. He really played tight end in our four-receiver set. Now he’ll have his hand on the ground at times and be split out at times. He gives us some flexibility in multiple sets, as does Matt Bushman. That group will be a big part of what we do.”

Quarterback Tanner Mangum has expressed confidence in the players around him, though some have minimal experience.

Mangum anticipates more passing than the offense had last year but added the importance of production from the running backs.

“I think we will throw it a little bit more this year, with the personnel we have. He really stresses the importance of having a run game,” Mangum said. “It was evident last year with Jamaal (Williams). It shows how effective it is when you have a good run game. It makes everything easier. We’re not going away from that. We’ve got to be able to keep it balanced and keep defenses on their toes. We need to establish ball security and ball control.”

Mangum joked that he probably won’t throw the ball as much as Detmer did when he was BYU’s quarterback more than 25 years ago.

“I’m not sure we can promise the 70 attempts that (Ty) was getting every game,” Mangum said. “But whatever it takes to win, I’m happy.”