Brandon Judd, Deseret News
BYU offensive lineman James Empey (66) lines up at center with Beau Hoge at quarterback during BYU practice in the Indoor Practice Facility on Friday, March 23, 2018.
We’re just trying to be the toughest guys on the field and play with great technique and play fast and physical. —James Empey

PROVO — BYU redshirt freshman offensive lineman James Empey knows he has a big void to fill.

Empey is expected start at center this season for the Cougars, replacing four-year starter Tejan Koroma.

“Tejan was awesome. He was great to learn from last year,” said the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder from American Fork High. “We’re all working really hard so we can replace everybody that left, and get the five best guys on the field and play our hardest.”

Last year, his position coach was his dad — former BYU offensive lineman Mike Empey. But Mike Empey was not retained when Jeff Grimes was hired as the new offensive coordinator.

“I love my dad. It was awesome when he was here and everything,” James said. “I don’t have much to say on the matter, but we’re excited to have the new guys here.”

Asked if his dad still coaches him at home, James smiled.

“Always,” he said.

James Empey is enjoying the instruction from his new coaches, including Grimes and offensive line coach Ryan Pugh, as well as graduate assistant Dallas Reynolds.

“They’re all really great, really detailed in their coaching,” Empey said. “They know their stuff. We’ve been learning a lot from them this spring, technique-wise and with the new offense coming in. It’s been great working with them.”

Grimes is a longtime offensive line coach, so Empey likes Grimes’s background, expertise and attention to detail.

“He’s always with us and always coaching us,” Empey said. “We have a lot of cross-over time with him. It’s been really cool to learn from him and be with him.”

What is the mindset of the offensive line?

“We’re just trying to be the toughest guys on the field and play with great technique and play fast and physical,” Empey said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

MIDWAY POINT OF SPRING: The Cougars hit the halfway mark of spring ball last week.

How has BYU’s new offense improved over the first two weeks of spring practices?

“The energy and the tempo of the offense has improved a lot,” said quarterback Joe Critchlow. “The motivation that we have to succeed, to do well and put points on the board this year is really high. I feel like that’s fueling us to push ourselves to get better individually so that we can do better collectively as well.”

BYU had a scrimmage last Friday, but, because of rainy weather, it was held at the Indoor Practice Facility instead of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“Hopefully by the time we go live again in the spring game, we’ll be in the stadium,” said coach Kalani Sitake.

DEFENSIVE CHANGES: While the offense is implementing a new offense, the defense is changing some things as well in terms of scheme and position changes. Austin Kafentzis has been moved from running back to safety; Zayne Anderson has gone from safety to linebacker; and Dayan Ghanwoloku is playing safety after spending last season at cornerback.

“We have some scheme changes and changes at position,” said safety Austin Lee. “It’s all about developing. It’s fun to see (the offense) have changes because they enjoy it. We are as well. It’s fun competing with them.”

LIVE IN PROVO: Normally, at practices, the quarterback is more protected than the spotted owl.

But in the first couple of scrimmages of spring, BYU quarterbacks have been “live,” or allowed to be tackled, which could expose them to the risk of injury.

What does James Empey think about the quarterbacks being live?

“It doesn’t change much for us, but, if we mess up, the consequences are a little bit bigger," Empey said. "It means we have to do our best every play.”