Wilson’s great junior season began with unknowns who now are strength of the offense
Will BYU’s new starting quarterback have a stronger supporting cast than Zach Wilson did for the 2021 season?
You could make that argument.
Wilson had a big hand in the execution and you can’t discount his impact, but those he worked with produced nearly 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns. And they’re all back. A year ago, you couldn’t find a highlight video of one play by tight end, Isaac Rex. Today, he’s a star.
There wasn’t that kind of returning yardage available for Wilson when he began his junior season last year against Navy.
But there are other considerations.
For one, Wilson’s replacement will be without his main protector, left tackle Brady Christensen, a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers. Christensen graded out as one of the top offensive linemen in the country, a devastating blocker with outstanding feet, speed, hands, balance and experience.
The Cougars could find a replacement to step up for Christensen, but it will take time and development. Christensen was special.
Anther consideration is Christensen’s mentor, Jeff Grimes. Now at Baylor, one cannot discount the influence, attitude and coaching Grimes brought to BYU’s offense, in particular the offensive line.
Third, is the departure of Dax Milne, BYU’s No. 1 receiver. Because Milne and Wilson had an almost lifetime relationship on and off the field, you cannot duplicate that bond, no matter how many bodies you line up to try.
On the other hand, Wilson’s replacement will inherit the deepest wide receiver group in memory, a proven, productive tight end group and an experienced running back corps that is healthy and eager to perform.
Former Cougar quarterback Riley Nelson knows the importance of chemistry. He had it with record-setting receiver Cody Hoffman. He also knows Grimes will be missed regardless of the success of his replacement at offensive coordinator, Aaron Roderick.
Nelson says the Grimes departure is big.
“I know it is well-documented that Roderick played a major role in the game-planning and play-calling last year but still the make-up of the staff is different with Grimes and Eric Mateos. You just can’t say they will pick up where they left off.
“Second, the offensive line is the most important group when it comes to QB success and that is the position group that has experienced the most turnover. Not only losing guys like Christensen, Tristen Hoge and others but also, culturally Mateos and Grimes. They set the culture and they were vital to the outstanding performance of that group last year,” said Nelson.
“It won’t be catastrophic because they can still find five guys with plenty of starts and snaps under their belts, but the O-line will have to overcome a lot of offseason disruption.
“Lastly,” said Nelson. “It is hard to measure the impact of chemistry. Zach did what he did with two-plus seasons of developing chemistry with most of those dudes that produced in 2021. What matters is if you can get to a comfort level quickly.”
On the other hand of the debate, look at what the next QB, whoever it will be, will be handed that Wilson did not have.
A year ago, Rex was just off an LDS mission and hadn’t played for nearly three years. He was expected to shadow star Matt Bushman. He had no experience. Rex ended up catching 12 touchdown passes, as productive as any tight end in the country. Now he has Dallin Holker, a former star, back from his missionary service, now a sophomore, to work with a confident Mason Wake and emerging Carter Wheat.
A year ago, running back Tyler Allgeier had been fiddling back and forth as a linebacker and running back. It was not exactly settled if he’d tackle folks or carry the ball. When camp opens in August, Allgeier is an accomplished 1,000-yard rusher with breakaway highlights who has found himself on watch lists. Running mate Lopini Katoa is a veteran upperclassman and Miles Davis is pushing for time.
Milne will be sorely missed. His consistency, route running, and targetability for Wilson is a huge loss.
But look at the receivers room.
Their individual NIL campaigns could turn into a helmeted roller derby.
“My goodness,” said Nelson. “I mean I would be salivating to play with this group. I’m wondering if a problem might be keeping all these guys happy. There is only one ball and only so many plays in a game. But compared to past seasons and problems that other programs face, that is definitely a problem I would ask for as opposed to the opposite.”
Wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake returns Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u and have added Utah transfer starter Samson Nacua and his brother, Washington transfer and four-star recruit Puca Nacua. This, in addition to Brayden Cosper, Kade Moore, Kody Epps, Hobbs Nyberg, Chris Jackson, Keanu Hill and Terrance Fall.
Sitake is going to need name tags and extra sessions to get them reps.
The wide receiver/tight end group may have the most potential as a tandem weapon group as Kalani Sitake has seen since taking the job.
Wilson never saw this receiving depth and experience at running back a year ago, heading into 2020, the COVID-19 year that ended with an 11-1 record.
It’s a good place to start for the heir apparent QB.