In an interview before BYU’s 2023 spring football camp started in early March, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick acknowledged to the Deseret News that there were several games last October in which star quarterback Jaren Hall should not have played, including the 28-20 loss to Notre Dame that sent the season spiraling downward.

“The challenge for those guys this year is, ‘OK, who can earn the trust to be ready so that if we have an injury we don’t have to wheel Jaren out there in a wheelchair like we did last year and try to play against Notre Dame with no practice reps?’” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

“There were games last year where we should have played somebody else, but we really didn’t have anyone ready to go in there and take it over and just run with it,” Roderick said.

Despite a variety of shoulder and ankle injuries, Hall started in every regular-season game for the 8-5 Cougars, but missed the 24-23 win over SMU in the New Mexico Bowl when a high-ankle sprain proved too much to overcome. Fourth-stringer Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters got the surprise start, ran spectacularly well against the Mustangs and completed just enough passes to engineer the upset win.

Could Hall have played?

“No, nah,” Hall said Friday after performing in front of representatives of all 32 NFL teams at BYU’s pro day. “I would have had to been on some insane stuff that probably wasn’t very legal, or right, to do. So, probably not. … I wanted to see Sol-Jay do his thing, and he did. So it was fun.”

It also illustrated the need to have capable backup QBs — which Roderick says BYU did not have last October after Hall was injured late in the 38-26 win over Utah State on Sept. 29. Jacob Conover, who has since transferred to Arizona State, was listed as Hall’s backup throughout 2022, while Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan was QB3.

“One year Zach (Wilson) made it 12 games without getting hurt,” Roderick said. “Other than that, we have had at least one quarterback miss at least a game every year I have been here.”

That’s why Roderick made it an offseason priority to restock his quarterback room with experienced, game-ready players, bringing in not only former Pitt and USC star Kedon Slovis, but arguably the top junior college quarterback in the land in Jake Retzlaff of Riverside (California) City College.

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“Well, we didn’t (have an experienced backup) last year, so Jaren probably should not have played against Notre Dame. Or even Arkansas. He played really well in that Arkansas game, actually, playing hurt,” Roderick said. “But I mean, it was very questionable whether or not he was going to be available to play in those two games.”

Hall didn’t even look like himself in the Oct. 22 game at Liberty, a 41-14 loss, but coaches simply felt like there was not a better option. 

Through almost four weeks of spring camp, Slovis has emerged as the clearcut starter. No surprise there. Roderick said in the same aforementioned interview that they didn’t bring the veteran in to sit the bench.

Fennegan, a redshirt sophomore, got a head start in the battle to be QB2 because Retzlaff was slowed by a tonsillectomy and resulting complications that required two more surgeries, but the juco transfer recovered nicely last week with a strong performance in the half-scrimmage at the IPF and has seemingly drawn even.

Redshirt sophomore Nick Billoups and a pair of highly decorated former Utah prep stars — Springville’s Ryder Burton and Corner Canyon’s Cole Hagen — give Roderick a total of six quarterbacks to work with in 2023.

New Mexico Bowl offensive MVP Maiava-Peters has moved to running back, but could still be used in some wildcat-type situations as a QB this season, Roderick said last month.

“The challenge for those guys this year is, ‘OK, who can earn the trust to be ready so that if we have an injury we don’t have to wheel Jaren out there in a wheelchair like we did last year and try to play against Notre Dame with no practice reps?’” Roderick said. “He didn’t take a rep the whole week, and I have never done that in my coaching career. But we just felt like that was still our best chance to win, and he wanted to play. So that is the question: Who can step up and earn our trust and be the next guy up?”

Asked about the quarterback depth chart after two weeks of spring practices, head coach Kalani Sitake said it will be Roderick’s call.

“We feel good about the talent there,” Sitake said. “Which guys are going to step up and be the guys who are going to get the reps with the twos and threes? That is going to be the key.”

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Sitake said he’s already been impressed by Retzlaff, who threw for 4,596 yards and 44 touchdowns in 13 games at Riverside CC last season. 

“He’s got a live arm, a really strong arm. He’s got a presence about him that is really confident and kinda extends to the rest of the offense,” Sitake said.

Before camp, Roderick said Fennegan and Billoups made a lot of progress in the offseason, and Burton graduated high school early and has been a fixture in the Student Athlete Building for months.

“I am very high on Ryder Burton,” Roderick said. “He can throw it. That guy is a good player. … I have never seen a freshman know as much as he knows. He hung around our building all season last fall. It was crazy how much he was in our building, learning our offense, watching film, learning everything. And he came in in January and knew more than I have ever seen any freshman know at that point. He has a very impressive football IQ.”

BYU quarterback Ryder Burton and running back Enoch Nawahine practice during opening day of BYU spring football camp at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility in Provo, on Monday, March 6, 2023. Coaches have been impressed with Burton’s desire to soak up everything he can in preparation for the upcoming season. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News