Even as the limelight focuses on the guy who will boost BYU's pass production, a bigger question mark lies on those responsible for stopping the other team doing the same.
The Cougar secondary personifies the change sweeping through the program going into the 2011 season. Three starters are gone and newly minted secondary coach Nick Howell is in charge of making the transition as painless as possible.
Howell isn't taking any shortcuts, either, something he himself is all to familiar with. The University of Phoenix graduate saw two years of head coaching experience with currently 3A Ben Lamond high school. That was back in 2004-06. After that Howell latched onto BYU's program as a defensive intern before moving up as a defensive graduate assistant and last season's outside linebackers coach.
In many ways, Howell represents his charges. Young. Energetic. Wanting to prove himself now that the opportunity is there.
Howell craves that relationship with players. He sets up as many one-on-one interviews with them as NCAA regulations permit. He keeps them running drills, grueling ones, long after all the other teams have done post-practice interviews and hit the showers.
The secondary doesn't see that however. They already know Howell well enough to know they're not done until he feels they've met his standard of work ethic.
"He's always going at it 100-percent," lone returning starter Travis Uale said. "There's little time to rest. That's just his philosophy, that's the way he is and we love him for it. He works us hard, but we see the benefits in the games."
"It's just a time process," Howell said. "It's becoming great. We could be good. We could sit around and not do anything we could be good, or we can do extra and be really great."
The intensity sends Uale and the others a message: bring you're A-game, and you'll get a chance. Don't, and you won't. The first week of fall camp was proof enough of that, with the secondary boasting more different looks than any other squad.
Uale saw plenty of first string time on Day 1, as had Corby Eason and Robbie Buckner. Sophomore Daniel Sorensen shared time at strong safety with Mike Hague. Both were featured in nickel formation, but Howell quickly refuted the idea that anyone had a lead in the rotation race.
He backed that up over the subsequent days, throwing Preston Hadley, DeQuan Everett and Jray Galea'i in the first string and going so far as to bump Uale back to third string. Much of it could be (and likely is) simply a matter of getting everyone their fair share of reps. If that's the case, only Howell knows which guys are getting motions - and which guys are earning minutes.
"We're not leaning towards anybody," Howell said after Day 1. "I hope number four wants to compete with and beat number one. We're not leaning anywhere, we're just competing and finding out who can do it."
Later camp nuggets from head coach Bronc Mendenhall indicate free safety is Uale's job to lose, though Hague is making enough plays in his reps to keep it a competition instead of a formality. Mendenhall also quasi-committed to at the corner positions Monday, naming Eason as the No. 1 at field corner and Preston Hadley at field corner "if the season started [Monday]."
Hadley, a junior transfer from Snow College, has moved up the depth chart after logging impressive reps in fall camp. Mendenahll named Buckner and junior transfer Everett the No. 2 men in the corner rotations.
There has been no word, official or otherwise, on who will get the nod at strong safety. Daniel Sorensen has gone through the most reps at that position with the first string, though both Hague and Cameron Comer have made their cases for playing time at some point.
Uale expressed respect for the teammates who have doubled as his competition in camp, voicing the philosophy of fairness Howell instilled on Day 1.
"I have a lot of trust in all of our guys," Uale said. "No doubt comes to my mind. I think all of the guys in our squad our capable and ready. It's a matter of play-making now. It's whoever makes the most plays that's gonna fight for the spot."