As soon as I was hired, it was evident we had to have offensive linemen be a major part of our signing class. —BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae
Robert Anae effectively sold how serious he is about BYU’s offensive line Wednesday, the first day coaches can officially talk about recruits after the national letter of intent signing day.
Offensive linemen? Priority No. 1, said the Cougar offensive coordinator.
BYU’s 2013 recruiting class quickly became a chase for offensive linemen the past 30 days after six players at that position had career or season-ending injuries in 2012. BYU signed four freshmen and four junior college transfers on Wednesday.
“As soon as I was hired, it was evident we had to have offensive linemen be a major part of our signing class,” Anae said.
BYU sold these players on the idea they’ll become fast-playing tough guys unafraid to take it to defenders play in and play out.
Anae’s O-line recruit work began the day he was hired, flying to Indiana, Columbus, Portland, Oregon, Arizona, California and what he called “all points in between.”
It included shoring up one of Oregon‘s top high school players, Brayden Kearsley, a 6-5, 298-pound offensive four-star offensive lineman at Aloha High School. BYU’s other freshmen linemen include 6-6, 265-pound Thomas Shoaf from Indiana, Bingham High’s 6-3, 285-pound Keegan Hicks, and similar-sized Addison Pulsipher from Temecula Valley High in California. Anae quickly chased down JC linemen Josh Carter (Eastern Arizona), Tim Duran (Cabrillo College), Edward Fusi (Mt. San Antonio College) and De'ondre Wesley (Diablo Valley Community College).
The Cougars also welcome back O-linemen Jordan Black and Cole Jones from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Anae wants Cougar linemen who play fast and are tough. He wants to re-establish a culture of legacy offensive linemen taught by highly motivated staff members. He’s going to put new hire Garett Tujague in charge of the offensive line and as BYU’s offensive coordinator, he’s going to act as Tujague’s assistant offensive line coach — ensuring a hefty investment in development of line players.
Anae and his boss Bronco Mendenhall will put 40 percent of the five-member offensive staff (18 percent of the entire BYU staff ) working on the offensive line.
And that’s just the nuts and bolts.
The deeper, more philosophical part of Anae’s return to BYU is his plan to duplicate the attitude, speed and work ethic of Bronco Mendenhall’s defense in the offense, which ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense in 2013.
Anyone who has seen Mendenhall’s defense practice knows it to be intense, rough and nasty. Anae will implement his own form of Bronco’s “pursuit drill” and expects it will have the same results in pushing expectations of fast play. “I have my own name for it, but I’m going to keep that in-house for now.”
Anae told reporters he offered returning linemen a clean slate and new start to prove themselves to him and compete for positions in the depth chart. He’ll consider their efforts just as he will the new recruits.
“If you come in the weight room or on the practice field, you will not be able to tell the difference between offensive and defensive players. That’s what I want and that’s what we will work to get,” Anae said.
BYU will not deploy extreme wide splits of offensive linemen like Anae did at Texas Tech. But some splits will be wider than others depending on the play and formation.
He expects his offense to go no huddle, speeding up the game, which could help eliminate delay of game infractions and possibly false starts because of rapidity in execution. He sees BYU’s offense taking 90 to 100 plays in a game, which will require quality depth and proper training of all offensive players, but especially the big linemen.
“You can’t do what we want to do without offensive line depth. We have our four freshmen and four JUCO linemen coming in as part of this year’s team. It was sweet to come in as an offensive coordinator and make quick decisions to take care of this major dent in the team with injuries.”
Anae praises new hire Garett Tujague, a 17-year veteran junior college coach at College of the Canyons in California and credited him with help in making a late run at JC players.
“He’s a great person and he has a great reputation. He was able to sort out at the last minute — faster than I’ve ever seen — a quality group to evaluate and sign in a very short time. I can’t even begin to describe all the different levels of evaluations we had to have done to get it to fall into place. I’m amazed that it all fell into place before signing day.”
Anae and Tujague were both coached as BYU offensive linemen by Roger French and Anae said that common building block give them a familiarity that is very important as a coaching tandem with blockers.
Finally, Anae was humble enough to admit that his two-year absence from BYU was actually a great blessing in his development as a football coach. To work with Mike Stoops at Arizona and then be the lone hold over invited to join Rich Rodriguez was significant in the knowledge he gained.
Anae was bowled over with what Rodriguez did with a running quarterback and how he utilized that position in a “managed” and “protected” part of the offense and plans on implementing some of that with the Cougars.
Anae said he will pick and choose parts of Arizona and Oregon’s offense — both offshoots of Rodriguez’ creation, and make BYU’s offense a “narrow focus” of some of those broader concepts. It will be tailored to what BYU’s personnel can do.
“What guy in my profession would want to take a couple of years and learn things from Stoops and Rodriguez? I feel very fortunate, as most coaches would, to have the experience I've had the past two years.”
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.