Saturday is a gut-it-out day for BYU coach Kalani Sitake. He'll hold a closed scrimmage. There he’ll begin making decisions on a depth chart, separating contenders from pretenders, search for role players and carve out a scout team.
It is a big deal for the hopeful, a confirmation day for the proven.
When the dust settles and film is evaluated, there could be some position changes. Some guys may redshirt — sit out and save eligibility — and some roster guys will know if they’re closer to making the traveling squad for the LSU game on Sept. 2.
“I thought our guys, for the most part, for not being in full pads, have been very aggressive,” said Sitake this week. “I was really happy with that. To have to tell your guys to slow it down and not hit so much is a good thing for a coach.”
Now, fully decked out with a week of practice in the bank, Sitake will take a look at linemen, their physicality, and see how all these running backs stack up.
“In order for us to figure out some position battles, we need to do some live stuff. There are some guys who need those reps and we have some others that don’t need it other than to polish up on some things. We are about three weeks out now. It’s hard for me to make a blanket statement about everybody when we need to get to live work.”
Sitake said he plans a full-fledged live set of plays. “Some guys will be live, some guys won’t. Some guys will have a small portion of live work. It won’t be like a preseason game type situation, we aren’t doing that. I think there will be tons of fundamental stuff where we’ll determine depth chart stuff and who is climbing up the ranks.”
While the most important part might be in the trenches, most of the interest will be on some of the skilled positions, particularly on offense where the pecking order behind starting quarterback Tanner Mangum is being contested by Beau Hoge, Koy Detmer, Kody Wilstead and newcomers Joe Critchlow, Austin Kafintzis. Who can handle the heat?
In the backfield, Sitake needs to find a committee to replace Jamaal Williams, who is pushing to start for the Green Bay Packers. Can he find an every down back? Who can block best in max protection? Who is a workhorse? Who can take a hit, catch out of the backfield, make some moves?
“We may look at two-back sets at times,” said offensive coordinator Ty Detmer.
“We’re looking for consistency,” said tight end coach Steve Clark.
“We want to get the starters set, then work on depth,” said Sitake. “There will be tons of reps but it won’t be a game.”
He’s got plenty of choices with Squally Canada as the chief contender with former Wisconsin signee Ula Tolutau, Riley Burt, Brayden El-Bakri and Kavika Fonua pushing for roles. He’s also got scatbacks KJ Hall and Trey Dye to examine.
In the receiving corps, Sitake has a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience. With Jonah Trinnaman, Micah Simon, Aleva Hifo and Akile Davis getting a lot of looks, how should impressive Talon Shumway, speedy Beau Tanner and up and coming freshmen Tariq Buchanan and Neil Pau’u and returning sophomore Inoke Lotuleleli fit with a push from Rickey Shumway?
He’s got to find out if Texas and Utah transfers Tanner Jacobsen and Austin Lee are pushing veterans and can make some hits.
It’s going to be a salad bar. It’s made for slow motion replay in the position rooms come Monday.Sitake said when pads went on earlier this week, linebacker Butch Pau’u and his linemen were popping the running backs pretty good, a lead up to Saturday.
“You’d expect the big guys like Ula and Kavika and even Squally to handle that, but Trey and KJ did some good things. It is really difficult to do unless you are taking people to the ground, but even our offensive line got some really good looks in the run game.”
Sitake said he believes BYU’s O-line has depth. “Coach (Mike) Empey has done a good job getting people ready. He added Dallas Reynolds as a graduate assistant, a guy who’s been in the NFL and knows a lot and has really helped. Tejan Koroma did a great job in the offseason leading out and all the hard work they put in is starting to show.
So, what if it's bone-crunch time on Saturday?Who survives and rises? What are these guys made of?
Sitake said he’ll reveal all on Monday. Practice will be all closed up Saturday. The stadium gate guards will be in full hats and sunglasses to ward off onlookers.
“It’s our secret.”