Knowing they would need help at the quarterback, offensive line and running back positions in 2023 after losing the likes of Jaren Hall, Blake Freeland and Puka Nacua to probable NFL careers, BYU coaches hit the transfer portal fairly hard the past three months.

“If things pan out the way I expect, we will get another receiver, maybe two, and another (offensive) lineman. If it is not two receivers, it will be next best player we can find out there that can help our team.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

It appears that they successfully landed adequate replacements for Hall and Freeland, bringing in quarterback Kedon Slovis from Pittsburgh and offensive linemen Paul Maile and Weylin Lapuaho from Utah and Utah State, respectively.

What about a big-time receiver to fill the shoes of not only Nacua, but key losses such as Gunner Romney and Brayden Cosper?

So far, it hasn’t worked out. But not for lack of trying.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and passing game coordinator/receivers coach Fesi Sitake have said they’ve been looking in the transfer portal for months, and have gotten close to bringing in some pass-catchers, but it just hasn’t happened — for one reason or another.

“If things pan out the way I expect, we will get another receiver, maybe two, and another (offensive) lineman,” Roderick told the Deseret News in February. “If it is not two receivers, it will be next best player we can find out there that can help our team.”

The Cougars aren’t totally bereft of solid receivers in spring camp, which is in its third week. Redshirt junior Keanu Hill and redshirt sophomore Chase Roberts, emerged last year and have already stood out in March. Both seem to have added more strength and skill.

Then there’s Kody Epps, who was leading the Cougars in receiving last year before he sustained a season-ending injury in the loss at Liberty. Epps had shoulder surgery a few months ago and is attending spring practices, but not participating.

Those three are clearly the top receivers and, coupled with tight ends Isaac Rex and Ethan Erickson, the Cougars will have plenty of targets for Slovis in 2023 — if they all stay healthy. But as was the case last year when Nacua, Romney, Roberts and Epps all missed games due to injury, that’s a pipe dream.

BYU receivers


0 — Kody Epps, redshirt so.
1 — Keanu Hill, redshirt jr.
2 — Chase Roberts, redshirt so.
23 — Hobbs Nyberg, jr.
36 — Talmage Gunther, redshirt jr.
82 — Parker Kingston, redshirt fr.
89 — Kade Moore, redshirt so.
35 — Alex Anderson, fr.
88 — Devin Downing, fr.
80 — Koa Eldredge, fr.
86 — Dom Henry, redshirt fr.
38 — Tanner Holden, fr.
30 — Kyson Hall, redshirt fr.

“All three of those receivers are good players who had good years last year,” Roderick said. “And I think all three of them are capable of taking a big step forward this year. All three are young, up-and-coming, and you are going to see each one of them improve this year.”

After the fifth practice of spring camp, Roderick said Roberts and Hill have shown they are ready for full-time work this fall.

“Chase and Keanu have played a lot of football for us. You can tell they know it is their time,” Roderick said. “You have seen other guys the past two years step up at receiver for us. And I think those guys, each day they show they are veteran players. The game has really slowed down for them.

“There is no sense of panic at all. No matter what the defense does, they are reacting the right way,” Roderick continued. “They know where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there. The timing and the spacing on the field is always better when those guys are on the field for us.”

Hill caught 36 passes for 572 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns last season. Asked if he’s felt “overshadowed” by other receivers at BYU in his four years in Provo, he scoffed at that notion.

“I try not to look at anything like that. I just try to focus on what I can do to help perfect the team and make the team better and stuff like that,” he said. “So I don’t really think of getting overlooked. I really just look at how I can help myself to help the overall room and help the overall offense.”

What about Roberts? Is the former American Fork star ready to take on the role as WR1?

“I do feel a different level of expectation,” Roberts said. “But I am just here to play football. I am here to go perform and I don’t feel that big pressure. I just want to play and be the receiver I know I can be.”

Roberts changed his jersey number from 27 to 2 because “27 just isn’t a receiver number,” he said. Also, since Epps is 0 and Hill is 1, he figured it would look good if he was 2 to make it 0-1-2 for BYU’s top three receivers.

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Roderick said another receiver who has shown well this spring is redshirt freshman Dom Henry, a walk-on from St. Augustine, Florida, who did not record a catch last year but turned some heads as a member of the scout team.

“Dom has a chance to be a good player here,” Roderick said. “We really liked him in high school. I was really surprised that we got him as a walk-on (because) he is a scholarship player for a lot of programs.

“He has played well up to this point. He is getting better every day. Very good route runner. He plays bigger than he is, as a target. He has really good range. I love how he competes.”

Other possibilities who got some experience in 2022 and could work their way into the rotation are junior Hobbs Nyberg, redshirt junior Talmage Gunther and redshirt freshman Parker Kingston, who got one carry last year but did not record a reception. Nyberg and Gunther, of course, are valuable kickoff and punt returners who have done some impressive things as pass-catchers in camp.

A pair of receiver signees from the Cougars’ 2020 recruiting class, Devin Downing and Koa Eldredge, are back from missions and ready to contribute. Former Maple Mountain star Kyson Hall, Jaren’s brother, redshirted last year and is in the mix.

BYU signed just one high school receiver in its 2023 recruiting class — Josiah “JoJo” Phillips, a 6-foot-5 speedster out of Lancaster, California, and Sierra Canyon High.

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“We have some young guys coming up who I am excited about,” Roderick said. “And we are hoping to add another receiver or two after spring ball. So that will be fun to see who emerges.”

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BYU targeted Eastern Washington receiver Freddie Roberson in the transfer portal when he entered last December, but the three-time all-Big Sky selection signed with Mississippi State. There was also hope that USC receiver Gary Bryant Jr. would take a look at BYU because Bryant played with Slovis at USC, but the third-year sophomore is visiting schools such as Texas and Oregon and hasn’t shown any interest in rejoining his former teammate.

Two BYU players who were receivers last spring, Tanner Wall and Preston Rex, are playing safety in spring camp. And Terence Fall, who had a 25-yard touchdown run last fall against Utah Tech, entered the transfer portal.

For what it is worth, Slovis said he was impressed with the existing receiving corps when he arrived in Provo a couple months ago.

“Some of them aren’t healthy yet, so that is a thing for us, obviously,” he said. “We need to find some more depth and see who those next guys are who are going to emerge. But when you look at the next few receivers, especially with Kody out, guys are getting a lot more reps. Parker (Kingston) gets more reps, Ethan Erickson gets more reps and I think those guys are really going to impress a lot of people.”

BYU Cougars wide receiver Chase Roberts (27) makes a catch under pressure from Utah Tech cornerback Antonio Mayes (12) and runs the ball in for a touchdown to put the Cougars up 14-13 after the PAT during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.
BYU Cougars receiver Chase Roberts makes a catch under pressure from Utah Tech cornerback Antonio Mayes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
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