Zach Wilson will have to show he's still the right man for the job at quarterback
BYU is looking to erase the sting of a mediocre finish to an up-and-down 2019 season as it begins spring football practices on Monday. The Cougars went 7-6 for a second consecutive season but finished on a down note with losses to San Diego State in their regular-season finale and Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl.
Can BYU take a leap forward in 2020? It won't be an easy task with a daunting schedule on the horizon that features six Power 5 opponents. The Cougars have a few questions that need to be answered during the spring for them to find success in the season ahead.
5 Storylines to Watch During BYU's Spring Practice
1. Will Zach Wilson remain the starting quarterback?
Conventional wisdom says there's no reason to think BYU will not hand the reins to Wilson entering his junior season. Wilson took over as the starting quarterback midway through his freshman campaign and held onto the job last season even while missing several games with a thumb injury. He will have to work hard to keep the top spot. Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney both performed well while filling in for Wilson during his recovery. Wilson saw his numbers dip a bit as a sophomore, throwing for 2,382 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions on 62 percent passing. It's a safe bet that Hall and Romney will get enough reps in spring to show what they can do.
2. Who will emerge in the backfield behind Devonta'e Henry-Cole and Sione Finau?
BYU's projected top two running backs will not be participating in spring practices. Henry-Cole, a graduate transfer from Utah, is finishing up his degree in the spring. Finau will be held out of spring practices while he recovers from ACL surgery he had in January. This opens the door for other running backs to get in the backfield rotation. Lopini Katoa figures to have the inside track to get in the main rotation in the fall with his running and pass-catching abilities. Jackson McChesney and Tyler Allgeier are other possibilities as BYU works to shore up backfield depth after numerous injuries a season ago.
3. Who will step up at wide receiver?
Senior tight end Matt Bushman opted to return for one more year, meaning BYU will have its top receiver from last season. The Cougars still need to replace their top three wide receivers with Micah Simon, Talon Shumway, and Aleva Hifo all graduated. Gunner Romney seems like a natural choice to take a step forward. Romney had 31 catches for 377 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore. Dax Milne and Keanu Hill could also carve out larger roles. Look for Neil Pau'u to also get back in the mix after serving a year-long suspension for a DUI in 2019.
4. Can the secondary rid itself of the injury bug?
Keeping defensive backs healthy was not easy for BYU a season ago. Chris Wilcox and Troy Warner both battled injuries all year, robbing the Cougars of a pair of projected starters. Both players are back. Wilcox will be a starter at cornerback, giving BYU a much-needed senior leader at the position following the graduation of Dayan Ghanwoloku. Warner will be counted on to step up at safety to fill another hole left behind with Austin Lee graduating. If both players can stay healthy and play to their potential, BYU's defensive backfield will be in good shape in 2020.
5. Will BYU's defensive line improve at creating pressure?
The Cougars did not strike much fear into opposing quarterbacks a year ago. BYU totaled just 17 sacks all season. Scheme played an issue in the lack of pressure, as BYU inexplicably opted to drop eight men in coverage at inopportune times. Will it get better in 2020? The potential is there. Khyiris Tonga passed up the NFL draft to return for his senior season. Lorenzo Fauatea showed some playmaking potential last year. Returned missionary Tyler Batty also has the tools to be a solid pass rusher. If BYU's defensive linemen can be more aggressive in getting into the backfield, and the defensive coaches put together a scheme to give them a better chance for success, the Cougars can expect to take a few steps forward along the line of scrimmage in the season ahead.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.