BYU’s 3 experienced quarterbacks eager to compete for starting position
Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney all led the Cougars to big wins last season, then improved during the offseason with an eye toward earning the starting job in 2020 — if there’s a season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
PROVO — After what amounted to a five-month layoff, BYU’s starting quarterback derby resumed last week with incumbent Zach Wilson, uber-athletic Jaren Hall and rock-steady Boise State-beater Baylor Romney all looking healthy and “really good,” in the words of head coach Kalani Sitake.
“I was able to work with and train with all three (during the offseason) and just kinda balance it out so I could continue to build chemistry with them. They were all out there competing today and they all looked good, so whoever gets the job, I am just looking forward to making plays and winning games with them.” — BYU tight end Matt Bushman on the starting QB derby in Provo.
A lot of people have heavy interest in who will emerge as the starter when the Cougars take on Navy on Sept. 7 in Annapolis, Maryland, provided any college football games occur in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But no player is more interested than senior tight end Matt Bushman. Obviously, Bushman wants to see a lot of balls thrown his way this year, seeing as how he’s hoping to be one of the first tight ends taken in next April’s NFL draft.
To no one’s surprise, Bushman is staying neutral on the matter.
“I was able to work with and train with all three (during the offseason) and just kinda balance it out so I could continue to build chemistry with them,” Bushman said last Tuesday. “They were all out there competing today and they all looked good, so whoever gets the job, I am just looking forward to making plays and winning games with them.”
Is there really a QB derby at fall camp, which resumes Monday in Provo?
Bushman claims there is, alluding to “that quarterback battle still going on in fall camp,” when he spoke to reporters via Zoom last week. “They all have different strengths and things that they do differently, but I am confident with all of them and just hope we can succeed with whoever gets the job.”
Bushman was hoping to catch Dennis Pitta for most career receptions and receiving yards for a tight end in BYU history, but that obviously won’t happen if the season is shortened to 10 games, as expected. As of now, the Cougars have six games on their 2020 docket, losing the Oct. 24 game at Northern Illinois on Saturday when the Mid-American Conference postponed its season until spring.
According to Cougarstats.com, Bushman needs 97 catches for 1,183 yards to pass Pitta.
Bushman, the son-in-law of another great Cougar tight end Chad Lewis, offered an early scouting report on all three QBs in the competition:
• Wilson “looks good,” Bushman said. “His body, he was able to get stronger and just get that strength around his shoulders so he can zip that ball into tight areas.”
• Hall “is just an athlete,” Bushman said. “He is a guy that has got God-given talent and he doesn’t just sit with that. He works to improve. It is just impressive, the things that he can do on the field. So when there are plays that kinda look like they are going to break down, or the defender is going to make a big play, he makes guys miss and can throw a nice ball, too, when he is under pressure. So that’s been really cool.”
• Romney “is able to stay poised,” Bushman said. “It is almost like he doesn’t see the mayhem in the pocket and doesn’t worry about that. He stays in there and just tosses it to the right guy.”
Season still in jeopardy
Quarterback controversies and other on-field issues are still on the back burner as uncertainty over the viability of anyone playing college football this fall still reigns, which is why Sitake answered 12 questions from reporters in his inaugural camp comments before he was asked who the starting QB will be.
“I could tell you there are some good frontrunners,” Sitake said. “I saw a lot of good things from all the quarterbacks.”
The coach even mentioned that freshman Sol-Jay Maiava “surprised us a little bit” with his performance, along with walk-ons Rhett Reilly and Mason Fakahua, a returned missionary (New Zealand) from Cedar City.
Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick “has done a good job getting them ready,” Sitake said. “I feel really good about that group, as I do with a lot of our other positions.”
Generally, that was the theme after the first week: that players reported back in decent shape and hungry to improve, after mostly working out on their own after the pandemic hit in mid-March and forced the cancellation of spring camp after six practices.
Wilson, for one, traveled back and forth from Southern California to get personal instruction from former BYU QB John Beck and others at the 3DQB operation in Huntington Beach.
“I have guys on the team who are a little different than in most places, a little bit more mature and grown,” Sitake said. “I wasn’t worried about some of the things they were doing during the quarantine. These guys were working hard, I could see their bodies changing. … I saw our guys going out there and becoming more specialized in their technique and doing things they wanted to improve on.”
Wilson told the Deseret News in June that working with Beck and others on an individual basis did wonders for his game, and the time away from campus enabled him to work on his physical strength and conditioning.
“I am just excited for this next year because it is one more year in my maturity and development,” he said. “I have had a full year of being healthy in the offseason for the first time, so I am really excited to get after it.”
Hall said in June that it would be a shame if the season doesn’t happen because this is an outstanding collection of talent in Provo, and not just at the QB position.
“We know we are a great team. We know there are a lot of great things ahead of us,” he said. “We just gotta be better all around, and I think that will come with the experienced players we have on both sides of the ball and the great leaders we have. I think we are all just excited about our potential and what we can do if we keep working hard.”