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BYU’s 2022 offseason football depth chart is big, bulky and more definitive than expected

Among the revelations to the Cougars’ lineup this fall are the backup quarterback, third wide receiver and top running back to replace Tyler Allgeier

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Jacob Conover listed as the backup quarterback to starter Jaren Hall is one of the biggest revelations of the recently released BYU depth chart for the 2022 season.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jacob Conover (17) looks to pass against the Utah State Aggies in Logan on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. Conover listed as the backup quarterback to starter Jaren Hall is one of the biggest revelations of the recently released BYU depth chart for the 2022 season.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

No fewer than 82 names, and 34 positions, are on BYU’s first depth chart for the 2022 football season, which has to be some sort of record. 

The defensive side of the depth chart includes 15 positions to reflect the unit’s use of hybrid-type roles such as “rover” and “flash” and “cinco.” All told, 26 players are on the offensive depth chart, 44 on the defensive side and 12 are specialists.

“Keanu (Hill) just has the most proven reps on the field. That doesn’t mean it is going to stay that way, as always. It is up for competition. But he has solidified the right to be that third guy headed into Game One.” — BYU receivers coach and passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake

Of course, some players are listed twice at various positions on the offensive and defensive lines, and at the specialist positions.

For instance, kicker Jake Oldroyd handles place kicking and kickoffs, which are listed as different positions, and pass rusher Tyler Batty is denoted as the starter at defensive end and outside end, also different positions in BYU’s various defensive schemes and formations.

Head coach Kalani Sitake released the “offseason depth chart” as part of the 2022 BYU Football Almanac — formerly known as the media guide — at BYU football media day on June 22, and there were very few surprises.

The Deseret News made a stab at the depth chart in two separate stories — one for the offense, the other for defense and special teams — in April after spring camp ended.

We nailed every starter on offense (counting instances where BYU’s depth chart lists co-starters, and we were right on at least one) and special teams, and missed two on defense.

Where did we miss? 

We had senior Lorenzo Fauatea as the starter at defensive tackle, but BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki has junior Gabe Summers at No. 1, with the oft-injured Fauatea the backup.

And we had Javelle Brown as the starter at cinco, but the sophomore from San Diego has apparently left the program (he’s no longer on the roster) and junior George Udo is the starter.

At the aforementioned media day, the Deseret News spoke to Sitake and all 10 of his assistants (coordinators and position coaches). Here is a position-by-position look at the first depth chart of 2022, with comments from the corresponding coaches:

Quarterback

Spring ball ended with Jaren Hall as the unquestioned starter at the marquee position but uncertainty over his backup.

Would it be 2021 third-stringer Jacob Conover or Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan, who wasn’t completely healthy in March?

The answer is Conover, said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick.

“He had a really good spring. I thought he took a real step forward and showed that he has been here a while and he knows what he is doing,” Roderick said.

“He just ran the team, showed a lot of leadership. He is a really accountable guy who is always prepared and it is really important to him. This spring, it finally started to show that, ‘OK, he has been here long enough and he can run the show.’”

Regarding Hall’s return after winning the QB derby with Baylor Romney and Conover last year, Roderick said the fifth-year junior is in the best shape of his life.

“He has already changed his body a lot since last year,” Roderick said. “He was already an impressive guy, but physically he is in great shape right now and looking really good.”

Running back

BYU lists only one running back position on its depth chart, and right now the starter is Cal transfer Chris Brooks.

No surprise there.

Brooks was the talk of spring camp, and clearly brought in last January to replace the great Tyler Allgeier, off to the Atlanta Falcons.

Brooks “definitely earned the right to be that guy,” said running backs coach Harvey Unga, who apparently hadn’t checked out the depth chart before media day.

“If (Roderick) makes that call, so be it. He is the boss. I will go with whatever he says,” Unga said.

Senior Lopini Katoa is Brooks’ backup, while sophomore Jackson McChesney, freshman Miles Davis and junior Hinckley Ropati are listed in a three-way race to be RB3.

Unga reiterated that nothing is set in stone.

“I am not going to hand this to anybody,” he said. “Whoever comes here and competes and is the most consistent, day in and day out, obviously that is my guy.

“That is not to say that he is going to be the guy every game. If something happens and someone else starts to step up and they are more consistent and better than whoever that guy is, then they are going to be the guy.”

Roderick said Brooks “showed a lot of professionalism” in spring camp and clearly came in with the goal of being the opening game starter.

“He knew the offense as well as guys who have been in the program for over a year, and made very few mistakes in spring,” Roderick said.

“He is physically (imposing). If you have seen him, he is a really impressive looking guy. I expect big things. He’s a good player.”

Wide receiver

Senior Gunner Romney and junior Puka Nacua have been penciled in as the starters since both made the decisions to return this year, Romney having been the one mostly on the fence about returning since the bowl game.

Which player — Keanu Hill, Kody Epps, Chase Roberts or Brayden Cosper — would be WR3 was a big topic in the spring, but the release of the depth chart in June cleared it up.

It is Hill, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from Texas. Epps, Roberts and Cosper are the three primary backups, receivers coach Fesi Sitake confirmed.

“Keanu just has the most proven reps on the field,” Fesi Sitake said. “That doesn’t mean it is going to stay that way, as always.

“It is up for competition, but he has solidified the right to be that third guy headed into Game One.”

Roderick said Hill served notice in the opener last year against Arizona that he was ready for more reps, filling in admirably when Romney was injured early in the game and the Nacua brothers weren’t fully recovered from injuries that mostly kept them out of 2021 fall camp.

“Keanu sorta never played much for a while when Gunner, Samson and Puka came back,” Roderick said. “But the guy never pouted, didn’t say a word, just kept working. Then he got his opportunity again about midseason and did very well with it the rest of the year.”

Fesi Sitake said newcomers such as Parker Kingston, Dom Henry and Kyson Hall (Jaren’s little brother) will join a group that also includes Hobbs Nyberg, Tanner Wall, Talmage Gunther, Kade Moore and Terence Fall in trying to break into the top six.

Nyberg and Gunther are also valuable punt returners.

“I want to play as many as deserve to play without disrupting the flow of any individual in the group,” Sitake said.

Tight end and fullback

Tight ends coach Steve Clark, who oversees both position groups, said both groups are talented but a bit unsettled.

He’s got co-starters listed at each position: Isaac Rex and Dallin Holker at tight end and Masen Wake and Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli at fullback.

Redshirt sophomore Rex is almost back to full strength after snapping his tibia and fibula last November in the USC game.

“Isaac is a very important piece,” Clark said. “If he is good to go, I think we are in business.”

Clark said Holker, who got married last weekend, “is as good as ever. He is one of the hardest working players on the team. He lives at the facility, either lifting weights or catching balls off the jugs machine.”

Other tight ends waiting for their chance are Lane Lunt, Carter Wheat and Ethan Erickson.

As for the fullbacks, Clark said fans could see both on the field at the same time as coaches try to get their best players as many reps as possible.

Offensive line

There are a lot of ‘ors’ on the offensive line depth chart, which isn’t surprising considering offensive line coach Darrell Funk has said for months that few, if any, position battles are set in stone.

The only clear cut starter is left guard Clark Barrington, the preseason All-American who is listed as a redshirt junior but is almost certainly turning pro after the season.

“Well, he is super tough, for one thing,” Funk said of the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder. “I have not been around a tougher kid than that. … With James (Empey) gone, Clark is to me the true leader of the group, if you look at his whole body of work. I couldn’t be happier to have him in the room.”

There are a lot of co-starters listed because Funk said several players could play several different positions — sort of like the “positionless” strategies of offense taking hold in college basketball. 

Perhaps the biggest mystery is where Oregon transfer Kingsley Suamataia will play — left tackle or right tackle. He’s listed as a co-starter with three-year starter Blake Freeland at LT and two-year starter Harris LaChance at RT.

Sophomore Connor Pay was solid at center the second half of the season when Empey went down, but is listed as a co-starter at that spot with senior Joe Tukuafu, another guy who can also play guard. 

Campbell Barrington and Brayden Keim are also pushing for starting spots.

“We are going to have to evolve and do some different things because we are going to have more of a target on our back,” Funk said. “But I think we are in the right mindset, especially for (midsummer).

“We got a little bit of time. We will be ready to rock by the time we start camp in August. I know that.”

Veteran offensive lineman Keanu Saleapaga attempted to make a comeback, participating in spring camp, but is no longer with the team, Kalani Sitake confirmed.

Defensive line

Defensive coordinator Tuiaki said at media day that he has nine or 10 defensive linemen he feels comfortable playing, which is why 15 players are listed on the defensive line depth chart.

“You can never be as deep as you would like, but we should be more prepared if some of the main line players get injured,” he said.

The starters are senior Earl Tuioti-Mariner at strongside end, sophomore Batty at defensive end, junior Summers at defensive tackle and sophomore Caden Haws at nose tackle — when the Cougars are in a 4-3-4 or 4-2-5 alignment.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that freshman Aisea Moa is already on the depth chart, as the fourth-stringer at outside end.

Tuioti-Mariner said the emphasis this offseason for the defensive line is to be better against the run and better on third down.

“Our execution needs to improve, and having (more depth) should help,” he said. “There were times that we didn’t tackle well when we should have. That led to us being on the field too much.”

Defensive ends coach Preston Hadley said he also likes the depth on the defensive line and tabbed sophomores Fisher Jackson, John Nelson and Josh Larsen as players to keep an eye on should the starters falter or need more breaks.

Linebackers

Assuming Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar return healthy after having undergone midseason surgeries in 2021, linebacker will be a position of strength for the Cougars.

Other starters when BYU uses four linebackers will be Ben Bywater at the will spot and Chaz Ah You or Max Tooley at flash.

Pili plays mike linebacker and Wilgar is the rover.

“It is a solid group,” said linebackers coach Kevin Clune.

Pili’s backup is Navy transfer Pepe Tanuvasa, who spent time on the D-line last year. Bywater’s backups are junior Jackson Kaufusi and sophomore Josh Wilson.

Wilgar’s backup is Tavita Gagnier, a redshirt junior whose career has been plagued by injuries.

“There is always room for improvement, but the linebackers feel good about where we are at,” Wilgar said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition in fall camp. A lot of guys are hungry to play.”

Cornerbacks

Depth at the cornerback position was weakened when part-time starter Isaiah Herron decided to take a medical retirement, a decision that was reported by the Deseret News during media day and confirmed by the Las Vegas product a few days later on social media.

Cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford lists nine cornerbacks on the depth chart, led by starters D’Angelo Mandell and Kaleb Hayes, the Oregon State transfer who burst onto the scene last year in a big way.

Backups are sophomores Caleb Christensen and Gabe Jeudy-Lalli, the Vanderbilt transfer who could possibly play at safety if needed.

Utah State transfer Jakob Robinson, listed as the starting nickel on the depth chart, is also able to play corner, and play it well, Gilford said.

Hayes, Mandell and Robinson all have at least 15 starts under their belts. Mory Bamba, a 6-3, 190-pounder from Wisconsin who played at ASA College in Miami two years ago and Tyler Junior College in Texas last year, committed on June 24 and should add even more depth.

“It is definitely a blessing to get that kind of experience back, all in one room, especially because we do rotate so much,” Gilford said. “I feel comfortable rotating everybody, having everybody in different situations.”

Junior walk-on Jacob Boren — the fastest player on the team — could also be a factor, along with newcomers such as Zion Allen, Nate Gillis, Evan Johnson, Korbyn Green and Chika Ebunoha.

Safeties

With senior Malik Moore the surefire starter at free safety, the biggest suspense on the back end of the defense was at strong safety.

Sophomore Ammon Hannemann is the man, for now, but don’t be surprised if one-time cornerback Micah Harper continues to make strides toward getting back on the field.

Harper, who is listed at 5-10 and 185 pounds, started at cornerback as a freshman in 2020 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in spring camp in 2021.

He was moved to safety the first day of 2022 spring camp.

Hayden Livingston, who made a huge interception last season against Arizona, is also in the mix and currently listed as Moore’s backup at free safety.

Redshirt freshman Talan Alfrey also made the depth chart.

Specialists

Absolutely zero suspense at the two primary jobs — kicker and punter — as Oldroyd and sophomore Ryan Rehkow have those spots wrapped up for the second straight year.

Oldroyd struggled with back issues last season, but Brighton High product Justen Smith filled in admirably and is back again as a security blanket for special teams coordinator Ed Lamb.

Las Vegas product Miles Davis and the aforementioned speedster Boren are the kick returners, while Nyberg and Gunther are listed one-two as the punt returners.

“It’s a solid group,” Lamb said, also noting that long snappers Austin Riggs and Britton Hogan perform well when called upon, and Rehkow is a valuable holder for Oldroyd’s field goals and PATs.