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Brandon Judd, Deseret News
BYU offensive lineman James Empey lines up at center with Beau Hoge at quarterback during BYU practice in the Indoor Practice Facility on Friday, March 23, 2018.

PROVO — Building a consistent, prolific offense starts up front.

BYU's first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who has spent his whole career coaching the offensive line, knows an offense can go only as far as an O-line can carry it.

“Those guys should be the tip of the spear,” Grimes said. “I’ve challenged them in our group meeting and told them that they’re the guys who lead us into battle. If they don’t lead us into battle, then no one else can or will do anything.”

Photo courtesy BYU
BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh

Grimes hired one of his former players, Ryan Pugh, who previously coached the O-line at UT-San Antonio, to put together a hard-nosed, disciplined offensive line.

“Coach Pugh is doing a great job building the culture the right way,” Grimes said. “He has said that he wants our offensive line to be the toughest offensive line in the country. That’s the same thing I said years ago when I was here and I’m glad he’s doing a tremendous job building the right mindset there.”

How are the Cougars' offensive linemen embracing the charge to be the toughest in the nation?

“I think we have the guys in the room or I wouldn’t have said it. That’s the biggest key,” Pugh said. “It’s what they want to make of it and what they believe. It doesn’t matter if I want us to be the toughest O-line in the country. They have to take ownership of that. It’s my job to lead them in that direction and develop them in that way. As a group, that has to be their brand.

"Just like any great company out there in the world, they have a brand. When you see their logo, you know what you’re going to get. With us, when people see BYU, I want them to think, offensively, 'They’ve got a tough offensive line.' That should be what happens when they turn the film on. They see that. They just need to continue working and believing and trusting that everything we do is for a reason.”

Quarterback Beau Hoge likes the guys that are protecting him up front.

“The offensive line’s doing really well,” he said. “They’re watching film as a unit, making sure they’re all in sync.”

One lineman who is impressing this spring is Hoge’s cousin, Tristen Hoge, a Notre Dame transfer. He sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“He’s family and we grew up together,” Beau said. “It’s fun taking snaps and seeing ‘Hoge’ at the right guard position, seeing my last name on the back of his jersey. He’s protecting me. It’s an exciting thing.

"Tristen definitely has a presence about him. He has a commanding voice. He does a great job of holding guys accountable, especially in that O-line group.”

“He’s a very passionate young man. He’s competitive, he works hard, he competes,” Pugh said of his right guard. “He studies the game. It means a lot to him. He’s a leader for us. He’s going to be a great player one day and right now he’s doing everything we’re asking of him.”

Beau Hoge added that Tristen Hoge, center James Empey and tackle Austin Hoyt are among those that “have really stepped up and taken leadership positions.”

Of Empey, Pugh said, “He’s a lot like Tristen. He sat out last year. He’s competing and passionate. The offensive line has done a great job of doing everything we’re asking of them to do and meeting or exceeding our expectations. James is another player with a bright future ahead of him.”

As spring ball winds down, the building of the offensive line is a work in progress, according to Pugh.

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“We’re under construction up front and we’re trying to take a step forward each day,” he said. “We’re making strides in the right direction. The thing that’s most important to me is learning the offense, playing with toughness and improving on our techniques every day. We’re going to coach the finest details that we can and hopefully take steps in the right direction.”

How is the offensive line coming together?

“Guys have had good days and bad days. There’s guys that have had good plays and bad plays,” Pugh said. “As a whole, they’re all trending in the right direction. It depends on what day it is and what time of the day you ask me. It’s been productive so far this spring. It’s been encouraging to see the work that they’ve done. I just want them to all continue to improve.”