Dick Harmon: Cougars' offensive line looking bigger and better for fall camp
When BYU's fall football camp begins, Bronco Mendenhall will get a significant boost from a truckload of athletes, something he sorely lacked this past spring.
These are big guys and they're mature and older, just like many opponents like to complain about. And that sits just fine with folks in Provo; they're back in the rocking-chair player business again.
While most everyone's eyes will be on the battle for the starting quarterback spot, that highly visible competition would not be possible — in a meaningful way — if it weren't for the big guys up front providing those QBs multiple looks in different situations for long periods of practice time.
Gary Patterson, head coach of defending MWC champion TCU, said there is no way you can truly test and learn the pocket presence of a quarterback unless you see him multiple times in live drills in 11-on-11.
"You can see how he reacts, how he handles the pressure and how he progresses," Patterson said. "If you can't do that, you really don't know."
Fortunately for Patterson and the Horned Frogs, they're at least three to four players deep along their offensive and defensive lines.
At BYU, the O-line may be a strength this year. But back during spring practice, when Riley Nelson, Jake Heaps and James Lark were trying to impress, the Cougar offensive line lacked depth. Mendenhall had to run practices with a kind of smoke-and-mirrors plan. Injuries, postseason surgeries, graduation and players' departure for missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left line coach Mark Weber with about eight available bodies — depending on the day.
That's no way to test or prepare a QB.
This has happened before in spring, and when it did, Mendenhall is quick to remind the media, people were worried and wondered if somehow the Cougars would struggle to field a decent offense in the fall.
Turned out, Max Hall was just fine and led the Cougars to a MWC title.
One has to admit, however, that the O-line looked mighty spotty this spring. Some of the practices resembled a fire drill because Mendenhall had to get in and out of 11-on-11 team sessions so quickly to protect what players he had on the field.
This fall is different. The O-line numbers have doubled. And where BYU is unique, Mendenhall says, is that the Cougars can have a 40 percent turnover in personnel every year, in part to missions. This is a month when the troops have arrived and other folks are healed.
"This is the deepest offensive line I've seen since I've been here," said All-American tackle Matt Reynolds. "We have a lot of guys ready to go, and it should be fun."
What should be fun is that the QBs will now see extended action in 11-on-11 team situations. That never happened this past spring.
Nelson and Heaps will be able to get plenty of work with the first and second units, going up against the No. 1 or 2 defense. It will be a different ballgame, so to speak.
"We will be five deep on the defensive line and three deep on the O-line, four deep at some spots," Mendenhall said. "This will give us an opportunity to do some real team work for those quarterbacks."
The offensive line's two-deep roster before camp opens includes Reynolds and Jason Speredon at left tackle, with Braden Hansen and Ryan Freeman at left guard. The center is Terence Brown, backed by Houston Reynolds. The right guards are Nick Alletto and Marco Thorson, and the right tackle spot will be taken by Braden Brown and Walter Kahaialii, just back from an LDS mission after seeing time as a starter before his church service.
In addition, the Cougars have incoming linemen Austin Nielsen, Jordan Black, Manu Mulitalo and Blair Tushaus arriving. Two players who will come back from missions after fall camp begins are freshman Michael Yeck and Manaaki Vaitai from Texas, who played before his LDS mission.
It remains to be seen if BYU's line can play as well as the one that opened against Oklahoma last year in Cowboy Stadium on national TV.
But from where it was last spring? That was a holding pen.
This is a farm.
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