When it came to big-time wide receivers in 2013, the BYU football team basically had one guy: Cody Hoffman, the school record holder in just about every category.
With Hoffman now fighting for a spot on the Washington Redskins, it would be easy to think the Cougars will take a step back at the position in 2014.
Anyone who went to either of the first two practices of fall camp, however, would probably scoff at the notion.
With junior Mitch Mathews looking to be at full strength, and senior Ross Apo on his way back, that might be enough to build some confidence in the BYU wideouts.
But throw in the early impact of newcomers Nick Kurtz, Jordan Leslie, Devon Blackmon and Keanu Nelson, plus some solid performances by a number of other unsung guys, and the buzz on the receiving unit has probably increased, not decreased.
"It's been really fun," Cougar junior quarterback Taysom Hill said after Friday's opening practice. "It's awesome as a quarterback. Right now it's a little helter-skelter, trying to get everyone doing the right thing. But once everyone knows what to do, it's kind of like pick your poison. If you are going to go one-on-one, we've got matchups all over the field. That's going to be great."
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall noted the amount of throws that were going downfield and said it shows what the receiving corps is capable of.
"We have more weapons, more depth, more athleticism, more speed and more ball skills," he said. "Now it's about the consistency, the diligence, the character to handle the BYU workload, that will play out over time. The athletic ability is certainly there."
The man who helped assemble the current group and whose job it is to keep the Cougars on track also liked what he saw from the first day of camp -- although he wasn't going to get too excited.
"I think we are a little more athletic and can run a little better," BYU wide receivers coach Guy Holliday said. "But let's see what happens when the pads go on. We made some plays, but we'll see. Obviously optimism is high, but it's all about the grind every day and improving."
Apo said he thought things went pretty smoothly and the offense moved the ball. The senior said the talent makes it easier for everyone.
"That's a good group of guys they brought in," Apo said. "It takes a lot of pressure off of everyone when you have good inside receivers like those guys. I'm going to come out and work hard every day to do what I can to help the team."
Apo and Mathews have the advantage of working under the system for more than a year, while even Kurtz -- who joined the team before spring -- has shown a lot of growth with a little time under his belt.
"I think looking back to spring from now, Nick Kurtz is a different receiver," Hill said. "He's feeling really comfortable and he gets to see these other guys come in and see what it takes to learn a new, uptempo system."
Kurtz was one of many receivers who benefited from the number of deep balls thrown in the early going of camp. Mendenhall said they might've thrown more on the first day than they did all of spring.
But Holliday was quick to point out that just putting the ball up doesn't mean much.
"You have to complete it," he said. "It is the lowest-percentage completed ball. But when you can run, you stress the defense. Offensively, what it does is help open up the underneath things, and defensive backs can't just sit on you all the time. They have to respect the fact that you can run."
As Apo mentioned, one of the ways the Cougars plan to pressure opposing defenses is to have guys who can play both inside at the slot and out wide, guys like Mathews and Leslie.
"We are a little more flexible and we can take advantage of matchups," Holliday said. "It's exciting."
The other thing that has Holliday grinning is the number of guys who will be pushing each other for playing time.
"For once, we have competition across the board," he said. "That's going to make us better. Competition makes you better every day. As long as you have to compete, you are going to improve. You find out who can play and who can't play and who wants to be consistent day-in and day-out."
BYU fans can expect the Cougars to be a lot more prepared for the tempo and the season depth-wise at wide receiver than in 2013, according to Holliday.
"We had a couple of guys injured last year and we were down to Skyler Ridley and Cody Hoffman," Holliday said. "You had two guys playing 80 snaps and that's a lot in football. A receiver is maxing out around 50 snaps and so that hurt us down the stretch. In this offense you need 6-to-8 guys to get to the game and be effective."