PROVO Most people tend to overlook offensive linemen, which is a little ironic because they're the biggest guys on the football field.
But any smart quarterback, like BYU's Max Hall, is quick to credit his mates in the trenches.
With four returning starters on the line, that position is expected to be a strength for the Cougars this season. When it comes to Max protection, Hall is happy with his O-line.
"It feels great. I don't have to worry much about the protection," said Hall, who took the brunt of several blindside sacks in 2007. "I can focus on my reads and stuff. Having those guys up there, they make their calls quick, they get to the line quick and it makes it a lot easier on me."
Based on off-season workouts, Hall said the the position on the team that impressed him most was the offensive line, which is deep, talented and experienced.
"We could have the best O-line in the nation," he said. "They're studs."
The returning linemen are tackles Dallas Reynolds and David Oswald, and guards Travis Bright and Ray Feinga. Reynolds has started 37 consecutive games, dating back to his freshman year, and Feinga, who has recorded 34 starts, were both All-Mountain West Conference first-team selections last year.
Bright sustained a broken leg in last year's win over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl, but he worked hard during the off-season to return to form.
"He's good. A pleasant surprise, probably beyond where we thought he would be at this point," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He changes the complexion of the entire team because of his toughness. He's soft-spoken, maybe in dealing (with the media), but I think most of our team is afraid of him. He's physical and I really like having him around."
Bright, who set the program's bench-press record by lifting 540 pounds, has played in 26 games the past two seasons. Oswald, a 6-foot-8, 330-pounder, anchors the other tackle spot for the Cougars. He has seen action in 34 games in his career.
The only real question mark on the offensive line is at center, where BYU is trying to replace Sete Aulai, who graduated. Junior Tom Sorensen signed with Vanderbilt out of Brighton High School and earned All-Southeastern Conference freshman honors. Following a mission, Sorensen transferred to BYU, where he's been the past two seasons. He played in seven games last year.
So far in fall camp, Sorensen, R.J. Willing and Reynolds have taken turns playing center. The versatile Willing is expected to make significant contributions, having played tackle, guard and center in his Cougar career. He started 11 games as a freshman in 2004 and saw action in all 13 games a year ago. Others expected to see playing time include freshman Matt Reynolds (who redshirted last season after a mission), Garrett Reden, Nick Alletto and Jason Speredon.
SIGHTS ON PERFECTION: BYU's offense as a whole is deep and experienced. Knowing this, Hall is hard on himself and his teammates. He's shooting for perfection.
"Max, I think, expects to throw a touchdown pass every time he throws it and score every time he's out there on the field, which is how you'd like our quarterback to be," Mendenhall said. "He has high expectations, not only for himself, but our team. He'd like to show that through his actions on the field, so I like it. But it bothers him when it's not just perfect."
"There's so many things we need to work on," Hall said. "We need to expand the offense and get better at the little things."
Mendenhall added that Hall has improved dramatically in every way since last fall camp just weeks before making his first collegiate start.
Hall is clearly comfortable with his role on this team, and why wouldn't he be? He has numerous weapons at his disposal, including running back Harvey Unga, tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Austin Collie, who is nursing a stress fracture in his leg and will miss the first few weeks of fall camp.
On top of that, Hall is starting his third year in the program."The system doesn't change very much," Mendenhall said of Hall. "He has a chance to master the system each and every day without much uncertainty. When you consider who he has protecting him, who he has to throw the football to and who he has to hand off to, I see those as all being positive things."
First down: Overall, Monday's practice was sloppy and a little bit undisciplined, according to head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
As good as the first day was, and I praised them, from the early kicking session, the volume of kicks it took to get that up to standard carried through for quite a bit of the practice, he said.
Head-turner: Harvey Unga had a long run on a non-contract drill. Placekicker Mitch Payne looked good, nailing several field goals.Injury report: Running back Fui Vakapuna was still limited in his participation in practice due to a lingering hamstring injury.