PROVO — College football beat writers around the country who make a few extra bucks writing for publications such as the Athlon Sports’ College Football Preview Magazine and Street & Smith’s Yearbooks have been on deadline recently, tasked with coming up with season previews for the teams they cover and putting together two-deep charts for games at least four months away.
Yours truly is no exception.
It feels like a futile exercise this April because it is becoming more and more apparent that the college football season won’t start on time unless the COVID-19 pandemic eases up dramatically in the next month or two. Locally, it might take a Tanner Mangum-like Hail Mary for the Utah-BYU football game to be played on Sept. 3 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Cross your fingers.
Not having 15 spring practices or a spring game to watch and evaluate makes formulating a depth chart this month even more difficult. But through six BYU practices, and after discussions with several sources who either watched those practices or are otherwise familiar with the situation, it is clear that the most-watched position battle at BYU — the never-ending starting quarterback derby — it still up in the air.
In other words, if BYU coach Kalani Sitake, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick were to release a post-spring depth chart any time soon, here’s what it would look like at quarterback:
Zach Wilson or Jaren Hall or Baylor Romney.
Sorry, editors of college football annuals who would like a little more clarity. That’s just how it is in Provo this year.
“We will determine in fall camp who is one and who is two and who is three,” Roderick told 1280 The Zone in Salt Lake City last Wednesday, a few days after what would have been BYU’s spring game, long since canceled, on March 28. “We will continue that competition as long as we can until somebody is clearly the guy or until we have to make a decision. Right now, we just don’t know what our time frame is going to be.”
Roderick told the Deseret News before spring camp began on March 2 that Romney had turf toe the last few games of the 2019 season and “was not really available to play” against San Diego State or Hawaii and was still not 100% this spring.
“He would only have played in an emergency in the bowl game,” Roderick said.
After the first few spring practices, Romney said he was “about 90%” and hoped to be at 100% “in the next couple of days.” He never got that chance, as BYU suspended all athletic activities on campus on March 12.
In the aforementioned radio interview with David James and Patrick Kinahan, Roderick said Romney’s foot injury “was still holding him back” in the six spring practices and so it was essentially a two-man competition.
“Zach and Jaren split all the reps, and we did not distinguish who was one or two,” Roderick said. “They took even reps with the ones and the twos, and I think it was good for the team to see all those guys compete. … I just wish Baylor could have done more in the spring.”
As for Romney’s brother, junior receiver Gunner Romney, Roderick said he was playing well and standing out before the cancellation ended everything.
“Gunner Romney has a lot of ability. He has done a lot of good things for us his first two years. I just think as he plays more snaps and becomes more of an every down player, people are going to see what he is really capable of,” Roderick said. “I think expectations for him were a little unfair. He came in with a lot of hype, and he played in a very good high school program. And he played as a true freshman for us.
“I expect this to be the year where the game really slows down for him,” Roderick continued. “He should rarely come off the field and I think he is someone who has a chance to be a really good player for us.”
Roderick also had interesting things to say regarding Wilson’s development, noting that the rising junior is “right on schedule” and taking advantage of his first fully healthy offseason since his junior year at Corner Canyon High in Draper.
“He had a good freshman year,” Roderick said. “And I said this publicly a couple of times, and I will say it again: The bowl game his freshman year, the so-called perfect bowl game, might have been the worst thing that ever happened to him.”
Wilson set a BYU record and tied the NCAA record by completing 18 of 18 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns in the 49-18 win over Western Michigan.
“He played a great game and it was good for our program because BYU hadn’t been in a bowl game for a year,” Roderick said. “But it created an expectation that was unfair and unrealistic for anyone, but especially for a kid who was only a freshman and had only played five games.”
While it was assumed Wilson was totally recovered from January shoulder surgery in the weeks leading up to the opener against Utah, Roderick said that wasn’t the case.
“A week before the Utah game, we were wondering if he was going to play. We kept saying, ‘Yeah, he is going to play, he is going to play.’ But it was getting scary, and with no training in the offseason, no weightlifting, no summer conditioning, he wasn’t ready until just before that game.”
Wilson struggled against Utah, then led BYU to wins over Tennessee and USC.
“He has some really great moments last year, and he had some ups and downs,” Roderick said. “I really wasn’t surprised. He is a sophomore. … And there are some things you only learn by playing. So I wasn’t surprised. He knows he has got to get better. That’s part of the process at BYU.”
And so is a starting quarterback derby.
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