This is the best offensive line position I’ve ever been a part of. —Robert Anae
PROVO — Robert Anae’s got this media day thing down pat.
At BYU’s annual football media day on Monday, Anae’s brutal frankness was kind of refreshing. A year ago, Anae was pulling back the reins on expectations. This year, he went with the flow of these summer shindigs, where optimism usually drips from every camera and microphone.
Anae wants to "go hard, go fast" again. And, he’s added, “go far” — as in throw more bombs.
He speaks of “stressing out” defenders, employing a group of players capable of going the distance at any time to force quick decisions and alignment changes by opposing defenses. He speaks of adding the “read” flexibility for BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, giving him the freedom to change plays at the line.
He kind of mocked BYU’s own spit and sputter passing game from a year ago, when pride in short completions was wasted energy. He waxed on about more choices, more firepower, more personnel.
He even made fun of BYU’s 9-yard flea flicker plays. “The ESPN guys were having a lot of fun with that at Notre Dame,” he said. “Nobody wants to go out and see how many 3-yard passes you can throw. Everyone in college football wants to throw the bomb.”
Anae believes he has the protection, flexibility, personnel and QB to make that happen in 2014.
“When protection shores up, then you can go deeper. Those longer routes become open,” he preached.
It will help, he says, to have receivers who can stretch the field on cue, referring to UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and Oregon transfer Devon Blackmon, who came to Provo on Sunday.
“If you don’t have competition, you aren’t going to get better,” said returning letterman Mitch Mathews. “I welcome those guys. It will be good to come off the field and know a guy is coming on who is just as good as you are. Last year I faced a different corner almost every series. This depth makes us better and harder to cover.”
Mathews said as soon as Leslie came to town, he was best buds with the other receivers, hanging out every day.
One reason for Anae’s optimism is the progress of BYU’s offensive line over the past year. Mixed and matched, injured and subbed, forced to swallow a different culture and mental approach, linemen got shuffled like dominoes and were overwhelmed. As a result, in 2013, BYU had more offensive line starts than about anybody in the country.
Today, Anae sees that experience as more fruit on the tree, but harder to pick.
“This is the best offensive line position I’ve ever been a part of,” said Anae.
“We will take 10 guys on the plane, 10 guys to the hotel, and there will be a major battle to be in that top 10. It’ll be very competitive who will get on that plane,” he said.
Comparing 2013 with approaching 2014, Anae pointed to a prime example in senior center Edward Fusi, a 6-0, 317 pound former JC player a year ago.
“Last year Fusi struggled to get in shape. He worked and made progress to get stronger. He wasn’t ready. This year he is a bona fide Division I center, ready to go, ready to be depended upon. Can he go 93 plays? Probably not, but we will get as much as possible out of him which we could not do a year ago. It’s the same thing with our tackles and guards.”
Said Anae: “It will be tough to get on the field if you are an offensive lineman for us.”
Predicted the offensive coordinator: “If you are a returning missionary, it will be almost impossible to go through what is expected in practice when fall camp begins.”
He actually belittled BYU’s offensive unpreparedness in the 2013 opener at Virginia. “I’m not going to blame the weather. We were not prepared to win that game. We had too many playing hesitant, guessing and not playing at full speed.”
Anae said he’d like BYU to be known as an offensive line factory for NFL players. When scouts see film, he hopes they'll watch athletes who are well-conditioned, sound in technique, and prepared to go to the next level and compete for a job.
When that happens, BYU will return to the business of putting QBs in the NFL. If BYU can’t play up front on offense, he predicts no quarterback will ever fully develop his skills.
Anae is ecstatic about the new skill players, especially in the receiving ranks. He said conditioning will be their biggest challenge, something transfer Nick Kurtz found out last spring. Once acclimated, Anae said Kurtz became a playmaker.
“On offense, wide receiver is the easiest position to learn, easier than the tight end, the quarterback and running back positions.”
In other words, he expects newcomers to barf their way into playing time. Once there, they’ll pick it up in quick order.
Ah, the words of summer.
They have a way of filling a vacuum.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.