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Provo • How will BYU replace the production of star running back Jamaal Williams?
The question has been asked since the team announced on Aug. 6 that the senior from Fontana, Calif., who had rushed for 2,526 yards in his career, was withdrawing from school and would miss the 2015 season.
The second most-asked question: Will Williams really return in 2016?
Athletic director Tom Holmoe told an Education Week audience last week that he "fully expects" Williams will "be back with us at some point in time."
As for the first question, through nearly three weeks of preseason training camp, the answer appears to be "by committee."
It is painfully obvious that there is nobody on the Cougars' current roster with eligibility, at least who possesses the kind of speed, instincts and explosiveness that Williams displayed in three years with the program.
Junior Algernon "Algie" Brown, the Skyline High product, almost certainly will get the most carries, if he can stay healthy. However, Brown, listed at 6-foot-1 and 246 pounds, is about 30 pounds heavier than Williams.
Brown said Monday that he lost 7-8 pounds in the offseason and is faster and quicker than he was in 2014, when he picked up 324 yards on 68 carries. He hasn't been able to show that, however, because he has been held out of both scrimmages at LaVell Edwards Stadium the past two Saturdays.
"I think I have [better speed], but we will see once the season rolls around," Brown said, crediting new strength coach Frank Wintrich for helping him lose some weight and get quicker.
A "big back" in Robert Anae's offense last year, Brown said coaches "want me to be more of a smaller back this season, with Jamaal out."
The other "smaller backs" who should get carries this year are seniors Adam Hine and Nate Carter. Hine, 6-1, 216, ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run last Saturday. Carter, 5-9, 189, averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 2014.
Freshman returned missionary Francis Bernard, from Herriman High, is making a case to be the starting fullback. Coach Bronco Mendenhall called Bernard "one of the real pleasant surprises of this fall camp" after the second scrimmage and said Bernard is tough, physical, reliable and consistent.
"Man, he is farther along and more productive at a higher level than any of us expected," Mendenhall said. "He will play. He's done a nice job."
The other fullback on the depth chart is Toloa'i Ho Ching, a 6-1, 240-pound sophomore from Alta High. However, he's been dinged up most of camp.
Riley Burt, a true freshman from Box Elder High, was moved from defensive back to running back the first full week of camp, and has shown some flashes in limited reps at the position he played in high school.
Anae said the playbook hasn't changed, and no adjustments made, for the loss the of Williams.
"We've got capable players to fill in," Anae said.
Mendenhall said he has two scholarships available and will award those two walk-ons in the next week or so. The obvious candidates are the aforementioned Carter and receiver Mitchell Juergens. Another receiver, Colby Pearson, was awarded a scholarship a few months ago. … The Cougars will scrimmage for a final time on Wednesday, then begin preparations for the Sept. 5 opener at Nebraska on Thursday or Friday.
BYU's primary ball carriers in 2015
Player Year Ht/Wt Att./Yds, 2014
Algernon Brown Junior 6-1/246 68/324
Adam Hine Senior 6-1/216 40/154
Nate Carter Senior 5-9/189 46/290
Francis Bernard Freshman 6-0/235 N/A
Riley Burt Freshman 6-1/195 N/A