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Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Jaren Wilkey/BYU
_W1_8277 The BYU Football Team holds a public practice and Fan Fest at Dixie High School in St. George, Utah. 2017 BYU Football - Spring Practice March 17, 2017 March 17, 2017 Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2017 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322
I've been really impressed with the young guys. We already know what the returning starters can do. We lost one O-lineman. The other four are going to be fine, but they showed that already last year. —BYU head coach Kalani SItake

If spring football gives BYU’s offense just one thing, it would be a more mature understanding of what offensive coordinator Ty Detmer expects.

And none of that works if the offensive line doesn’t make itself a force come fall.

After exchanging the mobile Taysom Hill for pocket passer Tanner Mangum, protecting Mangum will be a premium.

Can this O-line get it done, meaning give Mangum time?

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” head coach Kalani Sitake told reporters over the weekend.

“They’ve been doing some good things. I’ve been really impressed with the young guys. We already know what the returning starters can do. We lost one O-lineman. The other four are going to be fine, but they showed that already last year.

“But the guys who redshirted and guys who are developing in the program give us the ability to go two-deep in the O-line and feel comfortable with those who are rolling. You see, we use different lineups to be in there with Tanner and that also allows the backup quarterbacks to get in and go through their reads. Sometimes that frustrates their progress and development.”

Veterans Tejan Koroma, Thomas Shoaf, Tuni Kanuch, Austin Hoyt, Jacob Jimenez, injured Ului Lapuaho and Keyan Norman are the foundation. Offensive coach Mike Empey believes this spring that group is further ahead than a year ago.

“So far, so good,” said Empey.

“I like the format of getting in a lot of reps for everyone and working on fundamentals.”

There are newcomers sprinkled in and he like their progress.

“They’re learning and I can give them more reps and ask them to do more. We got back four guys last year from (LDS) missions and they all redshirted. So, they’re working themselves in. We have 12 linemen for spring. Everyone is finding reps.”

The redshirted guys off (LDS) missions have had time to acclimate themselves in Sitake’s first year with Empey. Those guys include Kieffer Longson (6-7, 300) Austin Chambers (6-4, 301) and Chandon Herring (6-7, 285) working in the two deep right now. Addison Pulsipher (6-5, 280) and LeRoy Sitake-Tanoai (6-4, 320) working in with the third group.

Empey said the system he’s using is getting more players involved in quality reps.

“The way we do spring, we aren’t necessarily trying to match up the first- and second-string (offenses) against the first- and second-string defenses. We are working every one in on a rotation and count reps to get everyone a chance to do things. They’re all working, they’re all getting opportunities to get better. The challenge is to find consistency and the more consistent they get, the more time they’ll find on the field.”

Staff and players say conditioning coach Nu’u Tafisi’s new program, plus the edict from Sitake for the roster to get bigger and stronger, is working.

“They’re bigger, stronger and more confident in the offense this year, knowing what to do and where to go. There’s a point where you are big and you don’t need to get better, you just want them to work on their technique,” said Empey.

He likes the personality of these blockers and protectors because they come with attitudes every day.

“They’re physical. They like working together. We try to emphasize fundamentals and technique so they can get out there and use their strength to move people around. I think these guys take pride in that. They’re a bit of a nasty group. This is more of a lineup that I have to restrain. I don’t have to kick them in the fanny to get things done, I have to hold them back a little bit.”

Empey just moved Thomas Shoaf to left tackle, a spot manned by injured Lapuaho at the start of last season.

“It’s going well,” said Shoaf. “It took a little bit to get back up to speed. I played left tackle in high school and it takes a little concentration to get used to changing direction on that side.”

Shoaf came on a year ago and made his presence known in the lineup.

“Things worked out really well. The high ankle sprain set me back a little midseason but I was able to overcome that and finish strong. I was able to get back in the offseason and I’m excited for the upcoming season.

Shoaf, whose spring weight is 275 on his 6-foot-5 frame, says weight gain is his biggest goal right now.

“I had some health issues related to that but we got things figured out so I’m moving forward, gaining weight and working on techniques. Spring has been a matter of keeping it simple, getting down the basics so we can run things in fall camp.”

Shoaf said Empey introduced some new tools and techniques this spring because a foundation had been built last spring.

“A year ago in spring everything was kind of a crash course and we had to figure it out as we went. But now we are able to polish rather than rough cut.”

Shoaf has high praise for Empey’s ways and means with the O-line.

“I think he’s done a fantastic job. I love his coaching style. I think everyone on the offensive line loves him. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s very patient with us and helps us be the best that we can.”

As for Tafisi’s weight room program?

“We are a lot faster, a lot stronger,” said Shoaf. “We’ve been with our strength coach for a year now and we are quicker and faster and definitely a lot stronger. We understand the game a little better than we did last year and we’re ready to take it to the next level rather than just recover.”

So, if what’s coming out of spring is a true gauge of the state of the O-line, there is progress in Sitake Year II.

I asked Shoaf what Detmer wants out of this offense in 2017.

The reply was clear.

“Win games. Move the ball and win games.”