|BYU needs Butch Pau'u to return to his 2016 form in 2018 (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)|
The 2017 BYU football season ended a little earlier than Cougar fans have become accustom to. Bowl season hasn't even started, nevertheless, with just under nine months until the 2018 season kicks off, it isn’t too early to take a sneak peek at the next season.
There are a lot of area's that need improving in 2018. With the mass exodus of NFL talent that happened after 2016, the Cougars were exposed in 2017. The good news is, BYU returns a lot of the offensive and defensive production in 2018. Replacing Fred Warner is probably impossible, for one player. The next biggest challenge will be replacing three starters along the offensive line.
This sneak peek looks at the key losses, returning contributors, new players to watch, and goals for each position group in 2018. It also includes a brief synopsis of the position group and a score on a scale of 1 to 10 how ready they are, today, for the 2018 season.
Key Losses: Tanner Mangum (injury)
Returning Contributors: Beau Hoge, Joe Critchlow, Koy Detmer, Jr.
Players to Watch: Kody Wilstead
Goals: 1) Stay healthy. 2) Build chemistry and communication with receivers. 3) Improve accuracy.
Synopsis: Until there is official word, I am going to count Mangum as out for all of 2018. An Achilles injury is no joke, so to count on him to compete for the job at this point seems unrealistic. Hopefully, he is the only loss from this position group. Hoge had his share of health concerns, and may decide sometime in the coming months that he would rather protect his long-term health.
Regardless of the health of any of these five players, there needs to be an open competition for the starting spot. With a new offensive coordinator coming in, whoever can pick up the new offense the quickest will have a leg up on the competition.
Hoge has the most experience in the program, and has the added element of being able to make plays with his legs. Critchlow gained some valuable experience starting the final three games. Wilstead redshirted in 2017, but had a tremendous prep career at Pine View in St. George, Utah. At 6'6" and 222 pounds, he is the biggest of the quarterbacks.
Ready for Kickoff: 3
Key Losses: None
Returning Contributors: Squally Canada, Ula Tolutau, KJ Hall, Austin Kafentzis
Players to Watch: Riley Burt, Trey Dye, Kavika Fonua, Brayden El-Bakri.
Goals: 1) Establish roles and develop a rotation. 2) Ball security. 3) Overcome injuries.
Synopsis: The depth at running back is great, but BYU will be better off with two, maximum three, backs who get the bulk of the reps. Canada separated himself from the pack down the stretch. If Tolutau can stay out of trouble off the field, then it seems certain he will have a prominent role as the power back. Hall has shown he can be very valuable as a receiver out of the backfield. Kafentzis is good with the ball in his hands. Burt bounced back and forth from offense and defense last season, but showed at Hawai'i he can be a good runner. He may be a victim of there just not being enough snaps to go around. Dye and Fonua were limited by injuries.
While it is true that BYU had the fewest fumbles in a season ever, the timing of those fumbles were awful, and cost BYU the Utah State game. Canada had a couple of close calls, and the refs missed one on the first play of the Hawai'i game. Ball security should always be a priority.
Hall, Canada, Kafentzis, Dye, and Fonua were all injured when the final seconds of the Hawai'i game ticked off the clock. They need to fully recover. Hopefully, most of them can be 100 percent for spring ball.
Ready for Kickoff: 8
Key Losses: Jonah Trinnaman
Returning Contributors: Aleva Hifo, Micah Simon, Talon Shumway
Players to Watch: Neil Pau'u, Beau Tanner
Goals: 1) Reduce drops. 2) Find a "go-to" guy. 3) Stretch the field.
Synopsis: Hifo, Simon, and Shumway are all going to be upperclassmen next season. They got a lot of experience this season. It is time for one of them to step up and become the quarterback's best friend--be that "go-to" guy. As a whole, the group needs to do better at making those easy catches. There were way to many easy drops that contributed to the offensive woes. Hifo and Simon seem to have the speed necessary to give BYU an imposing downfield passing game. Shumway does a pretty good job of high-pointing jump balls, which is a very valuable skill for receivers.
Don't sleep on Tanner and Pau'u. Tanner has a lot of speed, and Pau'u has a long frame and some good moves in the open field.
Ready for Kickoff: 6
Key Losses: Tanner Balderree
Returning Contributors: Matt Bushman
Players to Watch: Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Joe Tukuafu.
Goals: 1) Continue to develop skills. 2) Play a role in every game. 3) Be effective in the red zone.
Synopsis: Bushman was good as a freshman, but inconsistent. Six games he had less than 30 yards receiving. That needs to improve. He also needs to be a bigger threat in the red zone. That is where his big body can be most beneficial.
Laulu-Pututau missed 2017 with injury, but could give BYU its next great tight end tandem in 2018. As a wide receiver in 2015 and 2016, he made some highlight reel catches.
It would be nice to see a third guy develop in case there is another critical injury.
Ready for Kickoff: 7
Key Losses: Tejan Koroma, Tuni Kanuch, Keyan Norman
Returning Contributors: Austin Hoyt, Thomas Shoaf, Austin Chambers, Chandon Herring
Players to Watch: James Empey, Tristen Hoge, Kieffer Longson, Addison Pulsipher, Ului Lapuaho
Goals: 1) Dominate the trenches. 2) Develop chemistry after replacing three starters. 3) Learn the new blocking schemes that the new offensive coordinator will bring.
Synopsis: Replacing Koroma, Kanuch, and Norman is not going to be an easy task. However, Empey and Hoge are highly rated players, and Chambers did see action in seven games this season. Lapuaho is a wild card. He has played in 23 games and started 20 during his BYU career, but injuries have kept him out of most of the last two seasons. He still plans to play in 2018, if healthy.
Ready for Kickoff: 6
Key Losses: Handsome Tanielu, Kesni Tausinga
Returning Contributors: Sione Takitaki, Corbin Kaufusi, Merrill Taliauli, Khyiris Tonga, Trajan Pili, Solomane Wolfgramm
Players to Watch: Wayne Tei-Kirby
Goals: 1) Get more pressure on the quarterback (hurries and sacks). 2) Force more turnovers.
Synopsis: The defensive line developed a lot of depth in 2017. The two top players (Takitaki, Kaufusi) return for 2018. Look for Tonga to build on the flashes of greatness he showed this season.
While Takitaki and Kaufusi had nice individual seasons, BYU needs more production overall. More sacks, tackles for loss, and QB hurries need to come from the four guys up front. They also need to turn their backfield chaos into more turnovers.
Keep an eye on Wayne Tei-Kirby. He redshirted this season after transferring from Oregon. As a freshman at Oregon, he played in nine games and made 11 tackles, broke up two passes, and recovered a fumble.
Ready for Kickoff: 8
Key Losses: Fred Warner, Matt Hadley
Returning Contributors: Butch Pau'u, Adam Pulsipher,
Players to Watch: Morgan Unga, Johnny Tapusoa, Isaiah Kaufusi
Goals: 1) Make more plays in the opponents backfield. 2) Replace Fred Warner. 3) Force more turnovers.
Synopsis: BYU struggled to replace Francis Bernard in 2017. It's going to be even harder to replace Warner in 2018. Unga looks like he can be a nice player, but he's no Warner. Pau'u needs to not just rebound to his 2016 form, but find a way to do more to help fill the void left by Warner. BYU linebackers accounted for just four turnovers in 2017. That must improve.
Ready for Kickoff: 5
Key Losses: Micah Hannemann
Returning Contributors: Zayne Anderson, Dayan Ghanwoloku, Troy Warner, Chris Wilcox, Michael Shelton, Tanner Jacobson,
Players to Watch: Austin McChesney
Goals: 1) Lower opponent completion percentage. 2) Intercept more passes.
Synopsis: BYU opponents have completed a higher percentage of passes each of the last two seasons then any other seasons in school history. That trend has to stop. Hopefully, BYU can have the services of Warner all season. If not, Wilcox and Shelton showed well during his absence. Ghanwoloku does great things when he gets an interception. He needs to double or triple his interception total. McChesney sat out last season after contributing in 2016.
Ready for Kickoff: 5
Key Losses: Jonny Linehan, Jonah Trinnamann
Returning Contributors: Rhett Almond, Michael Shelton
Goals: 1) Replace Linehan. 2) Find competition for Almond. 3) Find a return game.
Synopsis: Linehan was the only punter on the roster, so BYU needs to find someone to take over those duties, immediately. Preferably someone with the same sense of humor. Placekicking and returns were non-factors. BYU needs to reliability beyond 40 yards for field goals. BYU needs to have players who can help change the game with a big return--both punt and kickoff.
Ready for Kickoff: 1
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