PROVO, Utah – BYU football gears up for the 2022 season with a lot of optimism. A big reason for the hope that another double-digit win season could be a possibility this fall is because of the offense. BYU returns a ton of experience from a group that was 17th nationally in total offense (452.6) last season.
With spring ball in the rearview mirror, all eyes shift towards the start of fall camp practices at the beginning of August. That will be the final opportunity for players to solidify their spots on the offensive depth chart before the season opener at USF in Tampa on September 3.
But until practices get fired up, here’s my projection of the BYU football offensive depth chart after spring. Check back on Thursday for the defensive depth chart.
Starter: Jaren Hall
No. 2: Jacob Conover
Others: Cade Fennegan, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, Nick Billoups
For the first time since 2017, BYU football entered a spring season without any starting quarterback debate. Jaren Hall was 100% healthy in spring ball after missing the Independence Bowl game last December.
Hall has taken a step forward in his game based on spring practices. From the velocity and accuracy of his passes to his command of Aaron Roderick’s offense, Hall, who enters his fifth season at BYU, is making the most of his opportunity of being the clear-cut number one quarterback. Hall is approaching his preparation like he’s a future pro.
There’s no reason to think he won’t be a future NFL draft pick if he can stay healthy this season. The pass-first quarterback has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football this season.
#BYU QB Jaren Hall will be working on his deep ball accuracy and timing in spring practice so he can become a “top-tier dude.”
He’s well on his way. Hall looked outstanding today. @kslsports pic.twitter.com/gOxF55VcYe
— Matthew Baiamonte (@baiamontematt) March 1, 2022
Any questions in the quarterback room were at the backup spot. After Baylor Romney left football to pursue a career at Adobe, the opportunity was there in spring for a new backup signal-caller to emerge. It’s an important spot as BYU has only had two seasons (2013, 2020) with the same starting quarterback for an entire season during the Independence era (since 2011).
Jacob Conover appears to be the guy who will emerge as the No. 2 signal-caller. Once an Elite 11 prospect out of Chandler, Arizona, Conover didn’t emerge as the clear-cut guy coming out of spring, but for now, according to Roderick and head coach Kalani Sitake, he’s created the separation.
Conover is still a young prospect, as he’s only a redshirt freshman, which is sometimes easy to forget as he enters his third year at BYU. However, he has the highest ceiling out of the backup candidates, as his arm talent gives glimpses of why he was once a four-star talent.
There was a lot of buzz generated around Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan entering spring practices for how he performed as a scout team quarterback last season.
Coming into spring, Fennegan was dealing with some nagging injuries, which Roderick noted during the final week of spring practice. The backup QB battle will likely carry over into fall camp, so there will still be opportunities for Fennegan and Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters to contend with Conover for the No. 2 spot.
One wild card in the quarterback room is if Roderick looks into the Transfer Portal to add another signal-caller. Roderick pointed out in spring that they had the luxury to rest Hall in games that he could have played because of how good Baylor Romney was as a backup. Do they have that luxury right now? If they don’t, does Roderick go into the portal to find that guy?
Starter: Chris Brooks
No. 2: Lopini Katoa -OR- Jackson McChesney
Others: Miles Davis, Mason Fakahua
Landing Chris Brooks out of the Transfer Portal from Cal was a big boost for BYU as the Cougars begin life without Tyler Allgeier in their backfield. Roderick believes Brooks was the best offensive player at Cal the past couple of seasons. A nice get as Brooks looked to be a perfect fit at running back for the Cougars.
Cal Transfer RB Chris Brooks changes the way BYU practices. He puts every defender on alert. His energy creates excitement. His aggression forces defenders to put their big boy pants on.
He makes you practice hard.
— Hans Olsen (@975Hans) March 11, 2022
Assuming Brooks is the No. 1 ball carrier to open the season, there’s no shortage of talent and experience behind him. Lopini Katoa returns for the sixth year. He had a productive spring, getting back to his old self.
Last season was hard for Katoa as his mother had a brain tumor removed just one day before the BYU-Utah game. His mother’s health weighed heavily on Katoa, who comes back with a purpose to contribute in any way that he can to the offense.
Jackson McChesney has shown in his limited opportunities that he has talent. He’s athletic and can be used in various ways in Roderick’s offense.
Miles Davis and Mason Fakahua round out the group. Hinckley “Folau” Ropati was at practices during the spring but didn’t see many reps during media observation windows. During the final week of spring ball, he was seen in street clothes.
Starters: Gunner Romney, Puka Nacua, Chase Roberts
Backups: Keanu Hill, Brayden Cosper, Kody Epps
Others: Talmage Gunther, Hobbs Nyberg, Maguire Anderson
I’m going out on a limb and calling for Chase Roberts to be a starter, but don’t worry; the top six guys will see playing time this year. Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua are both potential NFL talents. You won’t see those guys leave the field much this season.
But after them, Roberts, Keanu Hill, Brayden Cosper, and Kody Epps all showed well in spring practices to make Passing Game Coordinator Fesi Sitake feel good about his group going into the fall.
Roberts and Epps were two of the rising stars in spring practice. Keanu Hill has an opportunity to establish himself as the clear-cut No. 3 guy coming up in the fall. Then there’s Brayden Cosper, who Coach Fesi Sitake is confident can contribute at a high level if he stays healthy.
There’s no shortage of targets for Jaren Hall to throw to this fall.
Starter: Masen Wake
Backup: Houston Heimuli
Masen Wake was kept out of spring practices to heal up and prepare for the fall season. The hurdling sensation has proven to be a unique weapon within Roderick’s offense. When he’s healthy, he provides another dimension to BYU’s attack.
Wake, who’s emerged as a fan favorite, plans to give the people more highlight-worthy hurdles this season. This year, the former Lone Peak Knight isn’t the only player competing at fullback and wing tight end. BYU football added Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli to the mix as a preferred walk-on.
Heimuli, a pre-med grad student from Stanford, was a plug-and-play guy in BYU’s offense during spring ball. The way he executed his assignments in practice, you would have thought Heimuli had been in BYU’s offense for the last five years, not Stanford.
Heimuli is a physical football player that can expand his role beyond just being a gritty blocker. So don’t be surprised if Roderick and tight ends coach Steve Clark find ways to get Heimuli involved in the offense this fall.
Starter: Dallin Holker -OR- Isaac Rex
Backup: Ethan Erickson
Others: Lane Lunt, Carter Wheat
Spring ball was an interesting month for the tight end room. With starter Isaac Rex out due to an injury, it allowed Dallin Holker to get a large bulk of the first-team reps. Holker shined in spring practices. It was a nice bounceback for Holker, who at times last season seemed to have too much thrown at him after only being six months removed from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The former Lehi High star is as comfortable as ever in BYU’s offense, and he gives the Cougars the piece of mind that they still have a No. 1 tight end if Rex isn’t ready at the start of fall camp.
If Rex is ready for the start of camp, BYU football has another talented one-two punch atop their tight end depth chart as Rex has the potential to be a future NFL draft pick.
Redshirt freshman Ethan Erickson took advantage of the increased number of reps. The former three-star prospect out of Kahuku High School made some nice plays in the final two weeks of spring ball that caught the attention of guys like Jaren Hall.
Starters: Blake Freeland (LT), Clark Barrington (LG), Connor Pay (C), Campbell Barrington (RG), Kingsley Suamataia (RT)
Backups: Brayden Keim, Keanu Saleapaga, Joe Tukuafu (C & Guard), Harris LaChance
Others: Seth Willis, Tyler Little
BYU is one year away from being a member of the Big 12 Conference. Out of all the positions in BYU’s program, the Cougars are Power Five ready along the offensive line. When Kalani Sitake took over the program in 2016, he wanted humongous linemen that looked good getting off the bus. Well, he’s got it now and they look to be the foundation for a BYU football offense with high aspirations this season.
The line starts with the left side in Blake Freeland and All-American Clark Barrington. Both are arguably BYU’s best NFL draft prospects on the 2022 roster.
What’s intriguing about Freeland is that he’s only played two full seasons of football at the offensive line position, and he’s already emerged as a star at left tackle. Once an under-the-radar recruit up in Spokane, Barrington has blossomed into a highly-graded guard by PFF metrics. The starting left guard missed all of spring due to an upper-body injury, but he will be ready to go in fall camp.
Connor Pay steps into the full-time spotlight at center, but he’s passed every test since his first year in 2020. Pay was the team MVP in the Boca Raton Bowl for his play as the third-string center, being thrust into action. Then last year, from the Washington State game at midseason to the end of the season, he was the starter at center in replace of an injured James Empey.
Campbell Barrington, Clark’s younger brother, was a freshman All-American last season at the offensive tackle spot. During spring, he bounced back-and-forth between guard and tackle. His projected switch to guard opens the door for five-star transfer portal prospect Kingsley Suamataia to step in at tackle.
Suamataia has endless potential along BYU’s offensive line. At 6-foot-6, 330-pounds, Suamataia was lining up with what appeared to be the first-team offensive line during his first spring practice at BYU.
BYU offensive line coach Darrell Funk said you only need to see a few plays from Kingsley to know how exceptional a talent he truly is. The gentle giant off the field who made his transfer to be closer to family showed a mean streak on the field during parts of spring practices. He enjoys battling and getting chippy with defenses, a trait that will probably serve him well when he lines up against some of the Power Five opposition BYU football will face this fall.
In the projected second unit are many guys with starting experience. It leaves BYU with a situation when they run ten deep along the offensive line, and nearly everyone in the group can play a variety of spots.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.