Dick Harmon: Mark Weber distances BYU OL from 'hog badge'
Mark Weber has overseen the start to a non-fat diet. Now he wants to keep swinging the pickax, hopefully smiling at the end when the gold is weighed.
By his own admission, the veteran BYU offensive line coach and those he coaches have a long way to go to see the "culture change" morph into what he desires.
Due to minor injury tweaks, illnesses and player challenges, he's shuffled offensive linemen in and out of practice like a fire drill for more than a week. That is frustrating to a quarterback like Riley Nelson who wants continuity. He voiced his concern Saturday: He doesn't like musical chairs.
But it is what it is.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the O-linemen missing drills this past week won't hold them out of the season-opener. Projected starters Braden Hansen and Houston Reynolds have spent little time with the front-line unit.
With several linemen being nicked and bruised, and others missing practice from a honeymoon or just plain illness, Weber still has faith his guys are on the right track after instigating this culture change in O-linemen at BYU this spring.
What is this change?
As reported this fall, BYU's offensive linemen look slimmer and move more efficiently.
It's like a minivan versus a more manageable, sleeker SUV, or a Winnebago beside a Ford pickup with EcoBoost.
The days of huge, belly-bearing O-linemen at BYU are done. The recruited DNA will be different.
It is a hog-free zone.
That term started back in 1982 when Washington Redskins O-line coach Joe Bugel labeled his chunky O-line comprised of Joe Jacoby, George Starke, Russ Grimm, Mark May and center Jeff Bostic "The Hogs." It was a badge of honor.
From then on, folks assumed the guys who block and protect up front would be these huge, behemoth men. But Weber never bought into it and didn't like the name. Weber sees no honor in being called a hog.
Still, at most places he's coached, from North Carolina to UCLA, the trend was to get linemen heavier than 300 pounds.
"I don't like the term hogs. That's where it started, I think. Before that, the biggest guy on a line was around 270 pounds. Then they became hogs."
Weber said it should never have become that way. But at colleges he's coached, you'd bring in a recruit and he'd see the juniors and seniors were 320 pounds, so he ate his way to 320 instead of learning how to put on productive football weight.
"The key is not body weight, but lean body mass," Weber said. "If a guy is 320, that means nothing to me if he's got 215 lean muscle mass. If a guy is 300 pounds and has 240 pounds of lean muscle mass, that's a completely different athlete to me."
That's what BYU's been working on since Mendenhall decided he'd seen enough hogs this past spring. "The first thing is Bronco wants to coach that way, then Brandon Doman wants it coached that way, then we got the training element taken care of. That's what happened."
Weber says the proof is on film this first week. Sleeker, slimmer offensive linemen are able to do more with less personal and collective mass.
"It's not a natural thing to work the way we're going and we're not there by a long shot yet. We've got a way to go, but it's changing. We have great kids who want to do great things," Weber said.
Changing? What changed?
On Thursday, BYU's offense went through an 83-play scrimmage. Weber said that is the longest scrimmage he's been a part of since he came to BYU six seasons ago.
"It was very hot, it was extremely hot out there and we went 83 plays with only one rolled ankle," he said.
Weber saw better movement, more explosive and more sustained power.His crew looked better at the end of the scrimmage. There's greater endurance. When his guys walked off the field after practice, having just finished a 20-minute team segment, they had more in the tank. Players who went out recovered quicker and returned.
"Like I say, we've got a long way to go — we are not perfect — but if we sustain this, we have a chance to be pretty good," he said. "Right now, we finish a lot better at this point in the season than a year ago."
None of this is lost on Doman, who desires a fast-paced offense.
He calls it "functional movement improvement" and says having linemen with body fat percentages in the 20s instead of 30s enables them to be stronger, faster and better in the long haul.
"They're more mentally sharp. We weren't able to go this long in the spring or fall before this," Doman said, who then proclaimed, "We want our linemen to return to their glory days."
So, what nickname does Weber have for his guys?
"It's not going to be hogs," he said.
"Maybe after a game or two we'll know, but right now we're still settling on a starting lineup."
We shall see. Without this crew stepping up, the Cougars will be in for a long year.
And they know it.
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