Starting quarterback derby rages on as Zach Wilson returns to Provo to prepare for pro day
BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said the competition remains wide open, but says the field is starting to get whittled down a bit
Mike Wilson, the father of probable NFL first-round draft pick Zach Wilson, posted a video on Twitter late Thursday night of his son throwing a 50-yard bomb to former BYU receiver Aleva Hifo at the school’s indoor practice facility, where BYU’s pro day will be held next Friday.
The practice facility was almost empty when the aforementioned video was shot, but it won’t be March 26 as dozens of pro scouts will converge in Provo to not only watch Zach Wilson do his thing, but 19 other pro prospects, including offensive linemen Brady Christensen, Tristen Hoge and Chandon Herring, receiver Dax Milne, tight end Matt Bushman, cornerback Chris Wilcox and linebackers Isaiah Kaufusi and Kavika Fonua.
The NFL Network and BYUtv will provide live coverage of the most-hyped pro day in school history, thanks to Wilson’s meteoric rise up NFL draft boards.
Zach wilson back home getting ready for pro day @zachkapono1 @AHifo7 nice catch! pic.twitter.com/L6kbOXXvjp— Mike Wilson (@wilsonohana) March 19, 2021
Meanwhile, the competition to replace Wilson as BYU’s starting quarterback in 2021 rages on. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick, the man who will make the final call on the Great Quarterback Derby of 2021, with the blessing of head coach Kalani Sitake, met with reporters on Zoom Thursday night to provide an update after three weeks of spring camp.
“So far is has been a really tight battle,” Roderick said.
Having helped develop Wilson into the QB he is now, Roderick said the battle remains fairly open among veterans Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall and relative newcomers Jacob Conover and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters.
“We have four guys taking reps right now, which isn’t easy. But I feel like we are getting deep into spring ball now where they starting to accumulate enough reps to where we are starting to get an idea who each one of these guys are. But we are still very much in the process of evaluating them.” — BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick
Up to 7,500 fans who were able to purchase $10 tickets — they went on sale Thursday at BYUtickets.com — can watch the competition unfold next Friday after pro day in a public practice at 6 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“We have four guys taking reps right now, which isn’t easy,” Roderick said. “But I feel like we are getting deep into spring ball now where they starting to accumulate enough reps to where we are starting to get an idea who each one of these guys are. But we are still very much in the process of evaluating them.”
In other words, don’t expect coaches to name a starter when spring camp concludes after the public practice. To no one’s surprise, the derby will pick up again in early August when preseason training camp begins prior to the Sept. 4 opener in Las Vegas against Arizona, Roderick insinuated.
Will that be for strategic reasons, to keep the Wildcats guessing?
Not really, Roderick said, but he acknowledged “there is value in that, for sure.” One of the more intriguing aspects of the derby is that the four players are all different and bring different skill sets and attributes to the position.
“That is not part of my strategy,” he said. “But if the battle is really, really tight all the way up to the game, then I do think there is something to that. I know there is, because I have coached with defensive coaches who are trying to guess, like, ‘Which quarterback are we going to see? What style of play is it going to be?’”
Roderick, who was involved in picking a starter three years ago when senior Tanner Mangum dueled with Wilson (Mangum won the job, but was replaced by Wilson midseason after ineffectiveness), said if one of the guys clearly emerges as the obvious choice, they will announce it.
“When those things happen, the word gets out, right? If that happens, it will happen,” he said. “If there is no way the secret is not going to get out, then that is silly (to keep it quiet). … But when you have a good competition, and there are differences between the guys, it is definitely (good strategy). Why would you let your opponent know which one it is going to be and be prepared for that guy? So I am not saying that that is my plan, but if it takes that long to decide, then that is a bonus, for sure.”
BYU’s practices have been closed to the media and public, but the program releases 3-4 minute video clips of practice a couple times a week. In those clips, it appears that Romney and Hall are getting significant reps.
Hall, the redshirt sophomore from Spanish Fork who sat out all last season with a hip injury, was “a little rusty” the first couple of practices, Roderick said, but made significant progress the last two weeks.
“He looks better every day,” Roderick said. “His health is everything with him. He has had a tough time staying healthy. But when he has been available to us, he has played well. So, that’s the whole deal with him. … He hadn’t played football in a year. The last time we played, we got five practices last spring and that was the last time he actually played.”
Hall is not playing baseball this spring so he can focus entirely on winning the job.
“When you are as talented as he is, each day you look a little better and I feel like today was practice 11 and the last three days he has looked like a veteran player out there, and he is doing a good job,” Roderick said.
Redshirt junior running back Lopini Katoa isn’t doing much in spring practices due to some nagging injuries, but he’s watched them all and said Thursday “it is a really good battle” for the starting QB spot.
“We have obviously seen a lot of Jaren and Baylor. We have a good idea what they can do. They are great. They can win games. They have already proved it,” Katoa said. “Every day, all the quarterbacks are battling. There are things that they are great at, and then there are things they all have to work on, just like any of us. It is just cool to see the competition. … They don’t need to be Zach Wilson, but they know they have to win games.”