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BYU releases depth chart for opener against Arizona. Here are the biggest surprises

Head coach Kalani Sitake says all the players on the two-deep chart published Monday are ready to play, including receivers Samson and Puka Nacua

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake looks on during practice Aug. 23 in Provo.
BYU football coach Kalani Sitake looks on during practice Aug. 23 in Provo. The Cougars released their depth chart ahead of Saturday night’s 2021 opener vs. Arizona.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Contrary to some of those internet rumors that always seem to be prevalent this time of year, BYU football coach Kalani Sitake expects to have a healthy, academically eligible team Saturday when the Cougars face Arizona in Las Vegas.

Sitake released BYU’s depth chart for game week on Monday in conjunction with his weekly press briefing (via Zoom) and said, succinctly, “Everybody on that depth chart is cleared and ready to play. … Everybody is expected to participate and contribute in the game.”

Yes, receiver Puka Nacua, the transfer from Washington who has been rumored to be battling a lower leg injury, is on the depth chart, right there with his brother, Utah transfer Samson Nacua.

“Yup,” Sitake said, when asked if he expects Puka Nacua to be ready to go on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. MDT at Allegiant Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Although expected RB3 Miles Davis of Las Vegas is not on the depth chart (BYU listed only one RB spot, with stars Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa listed as co-starters) and rumored to be out with a fairly serious injury, Sitake reiterated that receiver Brayden Cosper is the only player who sustained a season-ending injury in camp.

“We have been pretty fortunate with only one setback as far as a season-ending injury, this fall camp,” Sitake said. “We have had guys get banged up because we run a physical program with a lot of 11-on-11 football. So we are going to have guys banged up.”

Sitake said if players who were on the post-spring depth chart but are not on the depth chart now, “they probably have some nagging injuries. But it is football. Nagging injuries are part of the game.”

Allgeier, defensive lineman Uriah “Lopa” Leiataua and receiver Gunner Romney also spoke to reporters Monday, and Allgeier elected to “pass” on a question regarding Davis, who was the star of BYU’s first scrimmage of camp but apparently got injured shortly thereafter.

Allgeier said freshman Jackson “Cheese” McChesney and sophomore Hinckley Ropati are competing to be RB3 right now. Both were injured for all or most of the 2020 season.

As expected, the depth chart is fairly clear. There are only a couple of ‘or’ designations where there is not a clear-cut starter, such as at the RB1 spot where Katoa and Allgeier share top billing.

There is an ‘or’ at the right guard position, with redshirt junior Joe Tukuafu and freshman Connor Pay apparently are still dueling for the spot. Pay is also listed as the backup center to All-American James Empey.

As usual, BYU’s defensive depth chart lists 15 positions; coaches say they do it that way to reflect the various defensive schemes the Cougars employ. Gone, however, is the ever-popular “Frodo” position in the secondary of yesteryear.

On defense, the only co-starter spots are Rover (Max Tooley-Ben Bywater) and Nickel (Utah State transfer Jakob Robinson and freshman Caleb Christensen, the primary kick returner).

“Not a lot of surprises,” Sitake acknowledged. “I mean, these are guys that we knew would be in the mix. … We feel good about the guys that are going to play. I just like that the guys have all improved. I give all these guys a chance to make plays and earn a starting spot.”

If there was a wide-open position entering preseason training camp (besides starting quarterback, which Jaren Hall won) it was starting strong safety, after 2020 mainstays Troy Warner and Zayne Anderson graduated.

The winner is junior Malik Moore, a San Diego native who brought the most experience to run alongside starting strong safety Chaz Ah You.

Why did coaches settle on Moore and Ah You at the safety spots?

“They have great instincts, they practice really well, and they make a lot of plays,” Sitake said. “We feel really good about those guys leading the way in the secondary.”

Appearing on the weekly “Coordinators’ Corner” show, safeties coach Ed Lamb said redshirt junior Ammon Hannemann is the “most improved” player among the safeties and should “play a lot this season and play well for us.”

Juniors Mitchell Price, Matt Criddle, freshman Javelle Brown and fifth-year senior Jared Kapisi also made the depth chart at safety.

The starting corners were also up in the air, especially after 2020 starter Micah Harper sustained a major knee injury in spring camp. The depth chart lists redshirt juniors D’Angelo Mandell and Keenan Ellis as the starters, backed up by Isaiah Herron and Oregon State transfer Kaleb Hayes.

“We feel really good about the corners,” Sitake said. “We will see how it goes, but for the most part I have a lot of confidence in those two starters, and the guys who are behind them. There is not one position on (the depth chart) that I don’t feel confident with the players and the talent there. We will just have to put it to the test.”