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Changes in the air at BYU's first practice — QB race narrowed down to 3

PROVO — As BYU opened fall camp Thursday, there were plenty of notable and noticeable changes.

For starters, the starting quarterback competition has already been whittled down from four QBs to three.

Junior Beau Hoge, who has been a candidate for the starting job, is now listed as a quarterback and as a running back. Thursday, Hoge was not wearing a green jersey like the other quarterbacks. Instead, he took reps during practice at running back.

The quarterback race is now between senior Tanner Mangum, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshman Zach Wilson.

“We’re giving Beau some time at running back to see if he can help the team there,” said quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick. “Tanner, Zach and Joe took the majority of the reps today. The number of reps was pretty evenly distributed. We’ll probably keep it that way for a few days.”

Meanwhile, Mangum and Wilson look different physically. Mangum returned from a season-ending Achilles injury and was limited during spring ball. Mangum shed weight while Wilson put some on.

“It’s a total transformation,” Roderick said of Mangum. “Tanner lost 20 pounds and Zach gained 15. Their teammates see how hard they are working. Tanner is chiseled and fit … I’m proud of all the quarterbacks. They’re in great shape. They’re committed to winning.”

Coach Kalani Sitake said that during practices, there’s an emphasis on running more plays, being more physical and getting more work done as the Cougars prepare to open the 2018 season at Arizona on Sept. 1.

“We’re doing things a little bit differently than we’ve done in the past and I think that’s suited to what we need to get accomplished before the Arizona game,” Sitake said. “We need to take advantage of all the time we have. It’s important for us to compete and put our guys in position where we’re playing a lot of football."

Mangum said the offense ran about 100 plays Thursday.

“We’re functioning like the pads are on right now,” Sitake said. “We’re not tackling but we’re playing a lot of football and a lot more football than we’ve done in the past. We need to manufacture as many reps as possible.”

Senior linebacker Butch Pau’u said the mood of the team, which is coming off a 4-9 record last season, is different.

“It’s a lot more positive energy this year,” Pau’u said.

“The guys are excited. They have a chip on their shoulder,” Roderick said. “You can see a bit of an edge, more of what’s been here in the past.”

Critchlow, who recently received an athletic scholarship after being on an academic scholarship last season, said there was improvement made on Day One.

“There were some mistakes out there. There were guys with a lot of jitters, guys who haven’t experienced a fall camp before,” he said. “But I feel like we made a lot of progress today. It was great to finally get started. There’s a lot of energy around this offense. The offense really feels that we can progress a lot and put a lot of points on the board.”

BYU is changing its practice time from the mornings, as it has in recent seasons, to the afternoons, something Sitake believes will be positive for his team.

“Moving to the afternoons is going to be really nice,” he said. “It’s not really comfortable for coaches. But it’s OK. We need to play in the dead of heat because Tucson is going to be hotter than this … We had more time to prepare for the practice. The guys took advantage of it. I expect practices to be crisper and cleaner.”

Sitake is hoping that all the changes will ultimately result in a different final record by the end of the season.

“With these guys, there’s more of a sense of urgency to be better,” Sitake said. “I’m just excited that the season’s here. I’m really looking forward to playing more football.”