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Four-way QB derby will require a lot of actual football playing in spring camp, coach Kalani Sitake says

Cougars will conduct the first of 15 spring practices on Monday, March 1, and hope to have a spring game — probably without spectators — at the end of the month

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1), Brigham Young Cougars running back Lopini Katoa (4 )and Brigham Young Cougars offensive lineman Brady Christensen (67) hoist the trophy after the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. BYU won 49-23.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1), running back Lopini Katoa (4 ) and offensive lineman Brady Christensen (67) hoist the trophy after the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. BYU won 49-23. BYU opens spring camp for the 2021 season on Monday, March 1, 2021 in Provo and the competition to replace the NFL-bound Wilson figures to be intense.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Head coach Kalani Sitake plans to put a lot of football into BYU’s 2021 spring football practices, which begin Monday in Provo as the Cougars get back at it hoping to continue the remarkable success they had in 2020.

“We are probably going to play a little bit more 11-on-11 football than we have seen in the past,” Sitake said Thursday afternoon in a Zoom call with reporters to preview March’s annual spring exercises. “Playing football is the best way to get better.”

Barring pandemic-related cancellations, the Cougars will have 15 practices over the course of four weeks, culminating with a hoped-for spring game on March 26 or 27. Practices will not be open to the general public, or for media viewing, due to concerns over spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Last year, BYU was able to get in five practices before the pandemic shut the sports world down.

Sitake said they will have a spring game, possibly at LaVell Edwards Stadium, if there are a sufficient number of available players, especially offensive linemen.

“The hard part right now, in trying to get position battles (evaluated), and letting them figure out who the best player is at each spot, is, you want to play 11-on-11 football. But there is a risk (of injuries) in playing football, especially when you go live,” he said. “You have to decide if it is worth the risk.”

One of the obvious reasons why BYU wants to play a lot of real, live tackle football is because Sitake has a huge starting quarterback battle on his hands in the quest to replace the NFL-bound Zach Wilson. The candidates are Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney, Sol-Jay Maiava and four-star recruit Jacob Conover of Chandler, Arizona, who ran the scout team last year.

Regarding that QB derby, Sitake reiterated what new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick told the Deseret News last week. All four guys will get an ample number of reps to show what they can do.

But don’t expect the competition to be settled before April begins, though it might — might — be whittled down, Sitake said.

He spoke as if it will go well into preseason training camp in August. The Cougars open the season Sept. 4 in Las Vegas against Arizona.

“I think we can pare it down, but I am not sure,” he said. “To give that many reps to four guys is hard. We are going to try to do it at the beginning, because we have four guys who can play and can help us win games. We are going to have to do a little bit more than just skelly (noncontact drills without a pass rush) to see which quarterbacks can throw.”

Sitake spelled out some of the criteria coaches will look at when they begin the paring down process.

“We are going to have to see guys in that football element and make things really difficult to see how they can function,” he said, making an analogy to basketball and what a point guard needs to do.

“If there is a way to do it, we are going to try to get as many opportunities for those four quarterbacks to show themselves in a game-type situation. And if it gets narrowed down a little bit more toward the end of spring, great.”

Asked which returning players on the two-deep will miss spring camp due to injuries, recent surgeries or other reasons, Sitake said he might divulge that next week.

“Because right now there is a chance that everyone will participate,” he said. “I think for the most part everyone will be involved with spring ball, but (some workouts) may have to be modified as far as how much they can participate.”

Regarding how offseason workouts went since the Cougars demolished Central Florida 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22 to finish with an 11-1 record and garner an eventual No. 11 ranking in the final AP Top 25 poll, Sitake raved about how much stronger the players got.

“We tested last week and the (weight room) numbers are really, really good,” he said. “We changed up our workout regimen from last year’s. It is a little bit more specialized. We know who to push and who needs to get big strength gains. … We are trying to incorporate more sports science into our workout regimen.”

Sitake said the two new coaches — offensive line coach Darrell Funk and linebackers coach Kevin Clune — are ready to hit the ground running, Funk because he has already worked a lot with new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick to get the offense down and Clune because he was with the team last year as a consultant.

“Everybody is just eager to get out on the football field again,” he said.

And play some real football.