On paper it looks like BYU has a lot of rebuilding to do, but with several players returning from their missions, the losses might not be as great as they seem. Most of the focus is on finding a quarterback to replace three-year starter Max Hall, but there also are holes to fill at fullback and all over the defense.
Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for BYU this spring:
Strongest position: Quarterbacks
Key returners: Junior Riley Nelson (completed 7-of-10 passes, 99 yards, one touchdown)
Key departures: Max Hall (completed 67.2 percent of passes, 3,560 yards, 33 touchdowns, 14 interceptions)
The skinny: Even though three-year starter Max Hall is gone and the Cougars probably won’t name their starting quarterback until the fall, coach Bronco Mendenhall has to be happy with the amount of talent he has at this position. Riley Nelson, Jake Heaps and James Lark all are capable enough to run this offense, which has to inspire confidence regardless of when a starter is named. It also helps that whoever plays quarterback also will have the benefit of some stellar running backs to help out in the backfield.
Weakest position: Defensive line
Key returners: Senior Vic So’oto (10 tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss), junior Matt Putnam (six tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss), junior Romney Fuga (40 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss)
Key departures: Jan Jorgensen (56 tackles, six sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss), Brett Denney (41 tackles, two sacks), Russell Tialavea (11 tackles)
The skinny: The Cougars lose all three starters off the defensive front, but have capable backups with playing experience stepping in. The problem is going to be the depth behind them. There are several freshmen and returning missionaries coming in, but none of them have a lot of experience. Eathyn Manumaleuna, who blocked the potential winning field goal against UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2007, will be back in the fall, but there’s no telling whether he’ll be able to be ready after being away for two years on his mission.