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BYU 1-on-1: You’re not tired of transfer portal talk, are you? Good. Here’s more.

By Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson - | May 17, 2023

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU's Caden Haws (left) and John Nelson bring down a Utah State ball carrier during a college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.

Daily Herald sports experts Darnell Dickson and Jared Lloyd address five of the big questions facing Cougar athletics this week:

1. What position group on the BYU football team received the biggest upgrade over the offseason?

DICKSON: I would give that to the offensive line. The Cougars lost a ton of talent to graduation and the portal, and there needed to be an influx of starters or depth there for O-line coach Darrell Funk.

Certainly there are still good players who were returning in Kinglsey Saumataia and Connor Pay, but BYU cleaned up in the portal: Paul Maile, Weylin Lapuahu, Ian Fitzgerald, Jake Eichorn and Caleb Etienne, one of the most enormous football players I’ve ever seen. All of those guys will contribute this year and some of the coaches have said they like this group better than last year’s room. That’s a lot to live up to, isn’t it?

LLOYD: I completely understand why Darnell is locked in on the offensive line, especially with a couple of key late pickups in Eichorn and Etienne. While that may be the group that benefitted the most, I’m going to say that the BYU defensive line wasn’t far behind.

While part of that was adding Jackson Cravens and Wyatt Dawe (both of whom will likely have an impact this fall), I think even bigger was having two coaches focus on the position. Both Kelly Poppinga and Sione Po’uha understand what it takes to compete at an elite level, so having them in position to mentor both the newcomers and the returning Cougars players will make a huge difference.

In addition, BYU’s revamped defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Jay Hill is more defensive-line-friendly, which means that unit will get more chances to win one-on-one battles. Those elements combine to make quite the upgrade in one offseason.

2. What position group on the BYU football team still needs a boost?

LLOYD: Do the Cougars have the depth they need at wide receiver? It’s tough to know for sure at this point.

It’s a position that has seen a lot of guys get hurt in the last few years, so BYU needs capable athletes to be ready when their numbers are called. Having Kody Epps decide not to transfer was huge, while adding transfer Darius Lassiter from Eastern Michigan was a nice pickup as well.

Put those two on a Cougar unit that includes Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts, Hobbs Nyberg and Talmage Gunther and that’s not a bad situation to be in. Still, if two or three get hurt, there will be a lot of inexperience at the position unless BYU gets another veteran to sign on.

DICKSON: The Cougars picked up Weber State’s Eddie Heckard in the portal and teamed with returning nickel back Jakob Robinson, that’s a good starting cornerback pair. Beyond that, though, are a lot of question marks.

Losing Kaleb Hayes and De’Angelo Mandell to graduation and Gabe Jeudy-Lally to transfer was a big hit in experience at a very key position. I think BYU could maybe pick up another corner in the portal, because while there is some potential in the cornerback room there isn’t a lot of proven talent.

3. What BYU football game are you most looking forward to for the 2023 season?

DICKSON: Is it too easy to say the opener on Sept. 2 against Sam Houston? Look, I know there are bigger games, especially when Big 12 play starts, but the build-up to the opener is always the hardest for me. You just don’t know what you’re going to get until the game is real.

BYU has a new quarterback, a new running back and several new offensive linemen, as well as an entirely new defensive scheme under Jay Hill. Sam Houston has been a really good as an FCS team and is heading into its first year in the FBS as a member of Conference USA.

I mean, maybe the Cougar coaches go conservative so as not to give too much away to future opponents, but I still can’t wait to watch BYU play actual football in early September.

LLOYD: It’s hard to ignore contests against big-name foes like Texas and Oklahoma, as well as renewing an old matchup with TCU, but — like Darnell — I’m going to go a different direction. That’s because the Big 12 has been so unpredictable in the last few years.

Since it’s tough to know just how good anyone is going to be in league play, I’m going to select BYU’s springboard game at Arkansas on Sept. 16. The Cougars should be favored to defeat Sam Houston and Southern Utah to start the year, so this lines up as a game that could put them on the national radar. It’s certainly rarely easy to go on the road and beat an SEC team, so a win in Fayetteville would be a big deal for BYU.

It’s just under four months away, Cougar fans. Try to survive until then.

4. BYU men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball are all taking overseas trips this summer. What’s the biggest benefit to spending a few weeks abroad?

LLOYD: While it may be counterintuitive, I see the biggest advantage is a lack of distractions. Yes, I know that seeing places like the pyramids in Egypt and castles in Austria could be considered distracting, but in this case these teams are doing it together.

When athletes are at school, even in the summer, there are classes, work and social lives that intrude on team-building. When you travel abroad, you feel a sense of community with your group more deeply.

There might be decent competition and some adjustments to roles, but for the most part these trips are about developing stronger bonds to help each other through the tough times that will come in the upcoming season.

DICKSON: In the transfer portal/NIL era, rosters change much more dramatically during the off-season and developing chemistry becomes more difficult. What better way to learn about new teammates then spending hours in a plane flying to Italy or touring together in Germany?

While the women’s soccer squad returned just about intact from 2022, all of the other teams have plenty of new players on the roster. Also, I think seeing the coaching staff and their families in a more relaxed setting can improve those new player-coach relationships.

5. Considering Zach Wilson’s first few years with the Jets, do you want Jaren Hall to even get on the field for the Vikings during his rookie season?

DICKSON: There was so much pressure on Wilson as a No. 2 draft choice AND being in New York, I’m surprised he didn’t go crazy (maybe he did, come to think of it). It’s takes a special player and a special situation for a rookie quarterback to excel in the NFL.

At this point, I would much rather have Hall learn and stay healthy (both physically and emotionally) by learning behind a good pro quarterback in Kirk Cousins before he gets thrown into the fire.

But really, it depends on the situation. If Wilson had a better offensive line and wasn’t constantly running for his life, who knows what he could have done with the Jets?

LLOYD: There is no magic recipe to guarantee that a quarterback making the jump from college to the NFL will succeed.

Play him? That seemed to eventually go OK for Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville. Sit him? Well, that went well initially for Aaron Rogers (who is stepping into the starting role for the New York Jets now) in Green Bay.

The reality is that Jaren Hall needs to position himself to be successful no matter when he gets on the field. He needs to show he has the mental and physical fortitude to handle the most stressful position in pro football. He needs to have his coaches be confident in his decision-making and eye control.

And he does need to do it in games, not just in practice. So I would like to see Hall get some snaps for Minnesota this season, but I hope he doesn’t have to take that many. Even some late-game mop-up duty would be beneficial.


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