PROVO — It's a veteran offensive line, a group with experience, credentials, and battle scars.
But BYU's big guys up front aren't taking anything for granted.
Senior left tackle Matt Reynolds, projected to go high in next April's National Football League draft, is an Outland Trophy candidate. Senior center Terence Brown is a Rimington Trophy candidate. Between them, Reynolds (39) and Brown (26) have started 65 consecutive games for the Cougars.
Also returning are guard Braden Hansen and right tackle Braden Brown, both juniors. Hansen has 26 career starts and Brown has 15. That's 106 starts from BYU's four starters on the O-line.
Though they've proven themselves, they certainly don't act that way.
"They've done a very good job of pushing themselves to improve," said offensive line coach Mark Weber. "They've worked in the offseason. They're leaner and more athletic. Matt and Terence are lighter. Braden Brown is bigger and stronger. It's fun to have older guys working hard. They've progressed, they've gained confidence. They know they're good and talented, but they're still working hard. Matt and Terence are working harder than they ever have, and they're fifth-year seniors."
Two years ago, Reynolds, Brown and Hansen were part of an inexperienced line that was in serious rebuilding mode. During fall camp of 2009, they were preparing to face then-No. 3 Oklahoma, and many predicted disastrous results. Not only did they exceed expectations, they also helped BYU upset the mighty Sooners.
Since then, they've gone through struggles, too, which has brought them closer. They know each other well, and they enjoy playing together.
"It's totally different than it was two years ago. We had the same guys basically," Reynolds said. "The confidence level is way high now. The chemistry is unlike any other line that I've played with. There are so many advantages. We have experience, and experiences with each other. You know how guys are going to react in different situations."
"Football's kind of like life. You get things thrown at you and you adjust," said Terence Brown. "It's always going to be tough. There's never going to be a day when we walk through things. We've come a long ways. We've been together a few years and we trust each other. We're just trying to build that throughout the whole team, not just the offensive line. I love it when our defense makes a play out here. It shows that we're improving as a team. That's what's fun to see."
Both Brown (6-foot-4, 318 pounds) and Reynolds (6-foot-6, 305) dropped about 15 pounds during the offseason. They underwent surgeries and missed spring practices in order to recuperate.
They were more than eager to start fall camp.
"The first day I kind of felt like a freshman again because I was sitting out for a while," Terence Brown said. "I missed not being able to be out there with the guys and I missed the contact. I feel like we're coming together. We have a ways to go still, but it feels good."
"There's been a little rust I've had to shake off," Reynolds said. "But to be back with the guys, practicing, is an awesome feeling."
Quarterback Jake Heaps has total confidence in those charged with protecting him, and opening up holes for the running backs.
"These guys have worked their tails off. They're masters of their craft," Heaps said. "They definitely know the game really well. They're a nasty, physical group that we can run the football behind. They're the total package — nimble feet, and they provide great pass protection. They do a fantastic job. That's why I came here. I knew BYU bred great offensive linemen. I knew I'd be well-protected. I love being around these guys."
Meanwhile, senior Marco Thorson, sophomore Houston Reynolds, junior Walter Kahaiali'i, and true freshman Ryker Mathews are battling for the starting job at left guard.
"There's great competition," Weber said. "Those guys are battling hard. We're evaluating the top five and it's not set yet. It's a lot of fun, and guys are getting better because of it."
"It's going to be an easy transition bringing in our left guard, whoever that's going to be, because these guys are going to make sure he's in the right spots," Heaps said. "We're excited."
Weber marvels at the progress of the offensive line the past two years.
"We've got depth and we've got guys with confidence. But not too confident," he said. "They're working hard. Two years ago, they were unknowns, iffy about the situation. They came out and played hard. Now, they're working on getting better."
BYU camp report
DAY 4: BYU held a morning practice in full pads for the first time during fall camp.14 comments on this story
STANDOUTS: Backup quarterback Riley Nelson completed all three of his pass attempts for 39 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Richard Wilson. No. 3 QB James Lark threw a 14-yard TD pass to David Foote. Safety Daniel Sorensen intercepted No. 1 quarterback Jake Heaps. Running back Bryan Kariya had an 18-yard run.
INJURIES: Linebacker Austen Jorgensen sustained an ankle sprain and linebacker Brandon Ogletree remained out due to a groin strain.
NEXT UP: The Cougars will hold their first two-a-days Friday, with two practices open to the public, at 10:15 a.m. and 4:50 p.m.