Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the second episode of Cougar Insiders — a podcast from Deseret News BYU beat writers Dick Harmon, Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney. It's been edited for clarity.
Dick Harmon: This week in Cougar Insiders, we're gonna hit you hard with the quarterback situation. We're going to break it down as well as we can. We’re going to talk recruiting, about some recruits that are really on the radar, maybe a couple that are not, and the importance of getting to a certain high school and doing a better job. And then we're going to round things out by telling you the rest of the story, something that happened with Ed Lamb in Cedar City. We're gonna have a lot of fun. It's just like us guys being along in a car ride, talking like we do when we go on road trips. That's all this week on Cougar Insiders.
Let's go through a quarterback update. We've only been able to see this team practice for maybe one combined hour in open sessions for the media but what have we learned? Why isn’t there a quarterback as the starter that's been named? We're going to delve into that just a little bit right now. Jeff, at that practice on Monday, right after the scrimmage, the portions that we saw, we saw Zach Wilson come out and have some real good throws, move the team little bit. Tanner (Mangum) came in, it seemed like the defense changed about then, started pressuring a little bit. And both Zach and Tanner kind of struggled — the defense had kind of a moment.
Jeff Call: Yeah, and I think from what we saw, again, the limited part we saw, I think Zach has looked really really good. He's been pretty consistent. He can make all the throws. He looks confident out there and you'd never guess that he's a true freshman. I mean, I may or may not have dandruff older than Zach Wilson. I mean, he's just a kid. He'll be 19 this month but he has really showed me a lot in this fall camp, even since spring he seems like he's taken a big jump. It may be a part of that's from spending the time with John Beck in California, but really he looks like he could be the starter. I mean, he's built for that.
DH: Why don't they name a starter, Brandon? Why is this continuing on? Is it just for competition?
Brandon Gurney: I think that was probably the main reason, but you have to take it to heart what Aaron Roderick said. He says what does it benefit us going to Arizona and having named a starting quarterback? I really believe we may not know until that season opener, which would be amazing. I don't think, have you ever covered anything like that?
DH: That's kind of crazy but you know I think they want to keep the competition up. But I also think that there's a lot of things that we're not seeing that are probably known to the team and they're not talking about it because they want every edge that they can get. Let's do something kind of fun here though for a minute. I want to get you guys into an argument. This is a debate point.
OK. I know, Brandon, that you are in love with Zach Wilson. You love — you like what he’s doing, you like what you’re seeing.
BG: I do like what I’m seeing. I do think love might be a little too strong. I’m getting there though.
DH: Well OK, you take Tanner and build a case, and Jeff you take Zach and build a case. OK, go ahead. Give us the Tanner thing, Brandon.
BG: Experience. He's the senior leader. He's been there before, he knows what it takes. He's had success before. When he takes that field it’s not going to be a shock to him. He's made strides, this new system is more conducive to what he likes to do, and he's looked good during practice sessions. So I think if it’s close, he's the guy. And from what we've heard from Roderick and Grimes is they've been neck and neck throughout fall practices. And if it’s neck and neck, if you take them at their word, you go with Tanner Mangum.
That's my argument. How about that one?
DH: Twenty-six games that he's played. Beat Boise State, which Taysom Hill didn’t do. Had that game-winner against Nebraska.
BG: Yes, he did.
DH: Big, big games. But Jeff, why should he not start?
JC: Well, to me, from what I've seen, the limited time I've seen, I mean, he's kind of the same guy we saw last year. I don't see any real difference with him other than he looks different. He's trimmer. He's leaner. But to me, Zach Wilson, it would not surprise me if he's the starter. Now BYU’s never done this in its history. It's never started a true freshman in the season opener. So this would be historic, groundbreaking stuff if we actually see it, but you have to remember that the day that Jeff Grimes was hired he placed a call to Zach Wilson. He went after Zach Wilson really hard to recruit him. He is Jeff Grimes’ guy. And if you look at it that way, does Jeff Grimes want to say this is my guy, he's the future of the program? So we're gonna throw him in there and he may take his lumps early, he may have to take a little bit of a beating. But we're gonna get him that experience and we're going to ride him and see where it takes us.
DH: Let's listen to what Aaron Roderick has to say about it. But before we do that, I know that we haven't been around Aaron Roderick for a long, long time. The Utah beat writers have, and they have a lot of great things to say about him. They like working with him. What have you guys seen so far in Aaron Roderick that you've liked in his coaching style, his interview style, his reaction to us, his personality, whatever? Jeff?
JC: I think Aaron is a guy that's been really honest up front. I think — we ask him questions, I mean, if he doesn't know the answer he’s gonna tell us, and I think he's revealed some things about the quarterbacks that maybe we didn't know, things that we don't see. And I think the players respond to him because he's a down-to-earth guy. He's a guy that I think commands the respect of the guys on the team because of his experience, what he did at Utah. So yeah, he's been a great addition for BYU, I think.
DH: Brandon, a lot of Cougar fans had a little bit of doubt about A-Rod when he was hired. What's your take now?
BG: I really like him. When you interview coaches, a lot of them are like playing a game with you. You can kind of tell that they're just trying to tell you as little as possible — kind of giving you a quote there's —
DH: Robert Anae never did that, did he?
BG: I remember Anae gave a 10-minute interview before Texas. I remember listening to that interview and you could use nothing. It was amazing. I was actually impressed.
DH: Remember the one time that he said, well, our offense: The quarterbacks throw the ball, the running backs carry the ball and block, the offensive lineman block, the receivers go out for passes and catch … you remember that?
BG: Oh yeah, I remember that same one. Roderick, he's not playing games with you. He's really earnest and you get the feeling that he's telling you exactly what is going on. He kind of reminds me of Lance Reynolds in that way. So I like him.
DH: Let's listen to Aaron Roderick right now.
Coach, you’re kind of in the middle of things, right now, going from that big scrimmage today, just explain where you think you’re at?
AR: I think that we're on schedule, is the way Coach Grimes put it today.
As a team, you know, we got a lot of work to do, but we also want these guys to understand that we feel like they've done a good job digesting a lot of information and our execution for where we're at right now in camp is about what we expected it to be and we just got to keep getting better every day.
DH: How important was it for you not to have any turnovers Saturday?
AR: It was huge. It was the No. 1 goal, and I was very adamant about that to the guys, that if we come away with no turnovers we are always going to have a chance to win. Some weeks you might play great, some weeks you might not play great but if you have zero turnovers you’ll always put yourself in position to win the game.
DH: As you broke down the film, how did your quarterbacks do?
AR: We threw a lot of completions. It was a really good day. Tanner and Zach had the exact same numbers, they were both 16 for 21. And then the other guys, Jaren and Joe, both got in there and did some good things. So it was an efficient day overall.
DH: Is there any real, of the 11 starters that may be there, is there a position battle other than quarterback that's really got an edge to it right now?
AR: Position battle other than quarterbacks? It's really competitive at tight end and receiver because we'll play with multiple receivers and multiple tight ends, but still it's not just equal reps to go around. So those guys are competing every day. And then there's also competition between position groups, too, because we're such a multiple team that, you know, if one group’s stronger than another then that group gets featured more. So you're not just competing against the guy in your position, you're competing across groups to prove that you're one of our best 11 players. So there's competition everywhere.
JC: You might have addressed this, but talk about how the quarterbacks did on Saturday, in your view.
AR: They played well, I thought. They were efficient. We have zero turnovers, which was a big deal. That was a huge point of emphasis all spring and will continue to be. I feel like if we take care of the ball like that, we have a chance to win, no matter what.
Tanner and Zach both had the exact same numbers, they were 16 for 21. And Joe and Jaren both got in and did some good things as well.
DH: You know there's a segment on the message boards and commentary that we have at the end of our stories, which we don’t always like, but a lot of people give us feedback and feedback is always good. Even though we don't agree with it. I was looking at the Cougar board and a guy posted a real good thing. Why should they not — I mean, what real advantage is Arizona going to have in knowing who BYU’s starting quarterback is? Are they really going to gain that big of an advantage, Jeff?
JC: I say no, I don't think it's — I think it's as big as you would think because, look, Arizona is going to do what they do and regardless of the quarterback, I don't think it's a big thing. It’s kind of a little bit overblown in this case because we’ve got a brand new coaching staff at Arizona. They've got a lot on their plate already and I don't know, I don't think it really matters that much.
DH: Kevin Sumlin down in Arizona, the new coach that came from Texas A&M, he has shut everything down. I mean, he is not even giving interviews. He's not letting the players get interviewed hardly at all. I haven't seen very many of them. He's closed practices to the media. He's closed them mostly to the fans. If he's that paranoid and keeping secrets, shouldn't BYU?
BG: Maybe, but just to back up what Jeff said, I mean, there's no film on Zach Wilson. What are you gonna gain? I just kind of want to see it, you know, I want to see if coaches can pull it off — if they can truly go throughout all fall practices, just like we'll see. We're gonna have that “or”; they're gonna enter the season with Tanner Mangum or Zach Wilson. Maybe we'll see it. I just kind of want to see it just to see it, just because I've never seen — kind of in a selfish way. I don’t know, maybe they can gain an advantage doing that.
DH: Now talking from the recruiting trail, let's talk about recruiting. Brandon you've been around the state, doing all kinds of interviews. You know who the best are. You know who the worst are. Who the people are that have potential. BYU has a great commit from a guy right now who's getting a lot of attention. Tell us about it.
BG: Yeah. Chase Roberts from American Fork is about as good a receiver as I've seen in the state. If it wasn't for Puka Nacua, who I just think is an extraordinary talent beyond anything I've ever seen at the high school level, playing that position, he would absolutely be the best receiver. I guess what I'm trying to say is, he's No. 2, clear No. 2. And most years he would be the absolute best receiver in the state. There's no question about it. He's 6-foot-4, very fluid. He went to camps and he absolutely killed it. National guys were ... 'Holy cow, this guy's gonna come on the national scene.' So three-star guy, kind of going up to four-star. What’s playing against him is he's committed to BYU and he is committed to BYU as a mission-first kid. But you kind of wonder what's going to happen to these kids if BYU tanks it again this year? I think it's critical.
I mean, Chase Roberts doesn't think he's gonna decommit. He’s solid and all that, but you start giving kids reasons, and these schools are so good at recruiting and talking to kids, you just see the importance of BYU not tanking again — showing a competitive product for guys like that. There's a lot of good recruits in-state this year. Another guy, Logan Sagapolu for Sky Ridge, probably the No. 1 recruit in the state. He says he likes BYU but he has only official visits scheduled for Utah and Oregon and I think that's kind of telling, where you're not taking time out to make an official visit. All these kids, you take their actions a lot more than their words so we'll see what comes of that. I think there's a lot of under the radar kind of guys and — that term “under the radar” for recruits I think is overused, but there's some legitimate guys and just going around it. And one thing BYU needs to do — they need to get back into that Bingham pipeline. Bingham has at least four top recruits and BYU's not really in the picture for any of them, which was unheard of just several years ago. You’ve got Simote Pepa, Lolani Langi, Junior Angilau. Where's BYU with any of those kids?
DH: I will say two guys that they've had, these receivers Braden Cosper and Dax Milne, these guys have looked really good. These freshmen receivers are pushing, Jeff. They're pushing hard.
JC: Yeah, I think we're gonna see a lot of immediate contributions from all three of those guys based on what Fesi Sitake has told us, they're going to contribute for sure.
BG: Dax Milne was seeing a lot of reps in the practice we saw yesterday.
DH: Now the rest of the story — we're gonna give some information on something that happened about a week or two before camp. There was a big story that came out of Cedar City. A reporter that was attending a kind of a meeting down there for Cougar fans and the reporter was there covering it and what came out of it was that Tanner Mangum really didn't relate to last year's offense. That's, that's not really any big news, but Ed Lamb, an assistant head coach, was down there. He coached at SUU and he's talking to group of people in Cedar City, probably knew a lot of them, and what came out of that is that he had high praise for Joe Critchlow and said that he could be one of the future greats at BYU. When that came out there was a lot of people that jumped on that — it made newspapers, it made radio broadcasts, it made the message boards.
It was just all over the place. But there's the rest of the story to this, Jeff.
JC: So I talked to Ed Lamb last week and I was talking about the linebackers the special teams, things like that. And I had to ask, I saved this for last, I had to ask him about those comments because they did get so much traction. And he told me he went down to speak to an alumni group there at Cedar City. Of course we all know that he coached at SUU and Cedar City and so he knows a lot of people. He recruited Joe Critchlow to SUU, as we know. Well he gave his remarks, he knew a reporter was there, and then he basically went off the grid for about three or four days. He went out to Zion and did some hiking and things like that. He had no idea that the story was kind of blowing up until he got back to Provo and people were making comments to him. So he went back and looked at the article and he was really kind of surprised because the way he put it was he said, "my praise was very balanced, but the article was not very balanced." Because he said he praised Tanner and Zach and a lot of guys on the team — he was very positive. But this reporter chose to highlight the Joe Critchlow part. Now, Dick and Brandon, I am shocked. I cannot believe that a reporter would actually not be balanced. We never do that, right? That’s not us.
DH: So we don't want to bash the reporter, but there was another part of this story that people don't realize and he talked in-depth and highlighted the other quarterbacks just as much, according to him.
JC: Yeah, he did. Yeah, he said he talked quite a bit about Tanner, a lot about Zach and not only those quarterbacks but a lot of guys. But you know, of course we understand that not everything is going to get in the paper and we kind of look at our audience and what our readers want to read, but yeah, he kind of said that it was much ado about nothing. But the one thing he did tell me, though, is he still feels the same way about Joe. Nothing has changed about Joe. He still thinks he can be one of the all-time greats that BYU.
BG: That kind of delves into the topic I want to get into and that's the progress of Jaron Hall. I don't think it was a surprise to anyone that Zach Wilson and Tanner Mangum are the two guys, we've assumed that for at least a week, right? But I think it's extremely notable that there's a competition for the third spot. You just thought Joe Critchlow, that’s your guy. But I've been very impressed with what I've seen from Jaren Hall, a guy fresh off his mission service. And watching him in high school I saw quite a bit of him, his junior year — he looked really good. He looked like a guy that was a quarterback. The thing that’s gonna be going against him all the time is that he's an athlete trying to be a quarterback.
He looked like a real quarterback to me — a guy that knew how to go through his progressions and all that. His senior year he kind of took a drop-off but his team really wasn't that good. He had receivers that couldn’t get open so he's running a lot and I kind of wondered, is football really his best sport? Because he's a fantastic baseball player — is quarterback really his best position even if he does play football? I think what he's we've seen through practice sessions is, yeah, he can play quarterback. They believe in him. He's making progress fresh off his mission service. I think it's an exciting thing because you're looking at an exceptional athlete and not Taysom Hill, well no one is Taysom Hill category. But as far as just being a pure athlete and all that. He could be the guy and you could see a lot of mobility in that position where he's a real guy. He's a guy that can lead the offense and be a real exciting two-way threat option.
DH: I was at a fast-food restaurant, this was the last week of July, and I saw a person who has played in the NFL who is connected to BYU. And he said to me in very certain terms, not even solicited, he says don't sleep on Jaren Hall. Don't sleep on him. He said that to me twice and I took note of that. So we'll have to see how that develops.
We're coming to you from Thanksgiving Point Golf Course. We appreciate being here in the studio. Now a final word, Jeff.
JC: Well, I think the topic du jour is quarterbacks. That usually is, talking about BYU, but looking at Zach Wilson, we talked about earlier how he could be the first true freshman to start a season for BYU. We did a series of stories this summer in the Deseret News looking back at the true freshman quarterbacks.
DH: Great job.
JC: Thanks, wasn't fishing for a compliment. But thank you, I'm blushing now. You're too kind.
Anyway, I interviewed all those guys that have started as true freshmen and, you know, the thing that kind of came out of that — each has their own individual story. They all went throughout their own unique experience, I guess. But one thing that kind of stands out is, you look at a guy like John Beck and he was kind of thrown to the wolves. He didn't start the season as the starter, as a freshman, but he was a returned missionary so he had a couple years of experience. So Zach's experience is different. I mean, he's fresh out of high school. Now he's in the situation where he could become the starter. And again, looking at the long-range view of the program, yeah, why not give them a shot. If he's the best guy, if the coaches say that he's the best guy ... And one thing the coach has said consistently since spring ball is that the best guy will start. It doesn't matter if they're a freshman, junior, sophomore, senior. It's who produces and if Zach does that I mean we could see some history being made down in Tucson here in a few weeks.
DH: I was talking to Glenn Tuckett on the phone the other day about going to Cooperstown, and stuff like that. We got to talking and he was very impressed with Zach, and I said, Coach, what do you do if you have a guy that's very experienced and has 26 games under his belt, and you have another guy that’s got a lot of talent and looks good? What do you do? Here's a guy that's in the Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame. He's coached football at BYU and he said just simply, You always play talent over experience. Always. It’ll be interesting to see. Brandon your final word.
BG: I was gonna go kickers but that's kind of boring, no one wants to hear about kickers.
DH: Sure they do.
BG: No, I'm not gonna talk about that. I don't want to talk about it so I'm not going to do it. I want to talk about the offensive line. I think a real notable development is the battle at center. Who did we did we see at center with the ones yesterday? (James) Jiminez. Yeah, I don't think anyone was expecting that. They're thinking (James) Empey, maybe Tristen Hodge was gonna play center. I think it's a real notable development that Jiminez, who has just kind of been not really a factor his first two years, he's had some injury issues, yeah, but he's a guy that's really risen to the challenge and it looks like he's going to be the starting center come the season's start, which I think is surprising.
DH: That's what we saw yesterday, he was taking almost every rep that we were able to see.
DH: What state does he come from?
DH: And where's Grimes come from?
BG: OK, there you go.
I remember talking to him after he committed to BYU and he struck me as a really, really mature kid. It was like I wasn’t even talking to a kid on the phone. You know when you’re interview guys and you’re interviewing some, but other guys you’re actually talking to them, it’s an actual conversation? With him it was a conversation. He just struck me as a kid with a good head on his shoulders and exactly the kind of non-LDS athlete that BYU needs to bring in. It’s neat that he’s having success and I think he’s the starter.
DH: My final word is about numbers. Kalani Sitake has kind of taken a scissor and a marker and he's cut his roster down. Some of it has been to attrition, some of it has been because he doesn't think they’re capable of doing things academically here. Some of its been Honor Code issues, but he has done that he's done it for the past, I'd say, 16 months and the numbers that I quoted were between 20 and 25 and I'll double-down on that because I'll also expand that to recruits. He's called up recruits and told them, no, it's not going to work out, we can see your record in school, we can see your record may be as an Honor Code person that may struggle a little bit. It may be better for you to be elsewhere. But he has made that move and he has taken — the way that it was put to me by an administrator is, Kalani does not want to take the risks that he's been taking. He wants to shore things up and be sure that people who are coming to BYU are those that can be successful, that can be achievers and that can last to the end. And he doesn't want to have people fail on his watch. And it's been too many failures on his watch.
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