Potential of BYU's Offensive Line?

One of the biggest keys to BYU's offensive success in year's past has been the play of the offensive line. Without good blocking, BYU's skill players simply will not play up to or show their potential.

With the graduation of key offensive linemen Ryan Keele, Dustin Rykert, and Isaac Herring -- and Ben Archibald's NCAA appeal denied a final time, what caliber of offensive line has BYU assembled for 2003 and 2004?

The most likely starting five offensive linemen that will line up against Georgia Tech will be:

Right Tackle Brandon Stephens, 6' 6", 285 pounds, Senior

Right Guard Jake Kuresa, 6' 4", 330 pounds, Freshman

Center Scott Jackson, 6' 5", 300 pounds, Senior

Left Guard Quinn Christensen, 6' 6", 300 pounds, Senior

Left Tackle Eddie Keele, 6' 5", 300 pounds, Freshman

An accurate portrayal of this year's offensive line would be "talented, but inexperienced." Besides Jackson, the other four players have a total of two D-1 offensive line years of experience between them.

Inexperienced offensive linemen usually equates to more mistakes on blocking assignments, reading the defensive play and getting beat by trick defensive formations.

Consequently, inexperienced offensive linemen potentially presents a higher risk of injury to quarterback Matt Berry. More defensive pressure on Berry increases the likelihood of poor judgment in making decisions if he doesn't have enough time to make proper reads downfield.

Here is an overview of how each player listed above has evolved up until now.

Brandon Stephens started his career as a very highly recruited tight end out of high school. He was named a Parade Magazine high school All-American and most recruiting services had him as the #1 tight end recruit in the nation. In Stephens' case, his recruiting hype did not match his ability. It became apparent to BYU coaches a position switch was necessary to utilize his talents, as he wasn't cut out to be a D-1 tight end. The coaches experimented with Stephens on the defensive line in 2000 and 2001 before switching him to his new position of offensive tackle in 2002 because injuries decimated the offensive line. He played in all 12 games last year.

Jake Kuresa has no D-1 experience as he redshirted the 2002 campaign. He was a huge (literally) top 100 national high school recruit in 2001. He came to BYU originally to play on the defensive line and even began the 2002 season by practicing as a defensive lineman. After a few practices, the coaches persuaded him to switch back over to the offensive line after Archibald suffered a season ending injury. His combination of size and athletic ability make him a potentially dominant offensive guard prospect. Inexperience seems to be his only major liability right now.

Scott Jackson is, by far, the most experienced lineman of BYU's potential starting five. He has had a lot of bad luck during his career. His freshman year following his mission, he suffered a broken fibula during fall camp and missed the season. During his sophomore year, he played in only eight games before going down with a season ending knee injury. Last year was his healthiest and most successful and he started all 12 games at Center. He should be the natural leader of this offensive line as he has the most experience at his position and knows the offense thoroughly. His experience, leadership and talent make him invaluable to the success of this year's offensive line. He is what Archibald was to last year's line.

Quinn Christensen transferred from Dixie College in 2001. BYU signed him in dramatic fashion as he had verbally committed to Oregon and was swayed at the last minute to sign with BYU. The former junior college All-American redshirted in 2001 before starting all 12 games last year at left guard. He is the most likely player to be unseated by Ofa Mohetau from his starting position. Regardless of whether he starts the entire year, he will see major playing time because of his experience.

Eddie Keele is the surprise potential starter of this group. The coaches were impressed with his athleticism and unofficially anointed him the left tackle of the future. He will definitely have to earn his playing time, but playing with the first team offense during spring ball is a good sign the position is his to lose. He used up his redshirt year prior to his mission and must play four straight years.

All indications are that super recruit Mohetau will arrive early this summer to practice and challenge for a starting position this fall. His obvious all-everything talent level would be welcome with open arms to the team. However, his inexperience and lack of playbook knowledge may cause him to struggle on throwing downs specifically. The coaches must find a way to utilize his talents without putting him in situations that would leave him vulnerable to making mistakes.

If these are the six players that get the majority of the playing time this year, where does that leave BYU in 2004? Jackson, Christensen, and Stephens will be gone.

Kuresa and Mohetau have both stated they would like to serve missions. That scenario would leave even more question marks than this year about the offensive line as Keele would be the only returning starter. The other starting positions would be a fought out among even more inexperienced, but talented linemen.

Here's my best guess of how the 2004 line will look if R.J. Willing, Kuresa and Mohetau leave on missions and Scott Young redshirts:

RT Paul Fisher, 6' 7", 305 pounds, Sophomore

RG Cade McMullin, 6' 4", 295 pounds, Senior

C Hanale Vincent, 6' 5", 315 pounds, Senior

LG Scott Young, 6' 5", 312 pounds, Senior

LT Eddie Keele, 6' 5", 300 pounds, Sophomore

Indeed, 2004 could be a year of offensive line struggles if this ends up being the starting offensive linemen. Of this group, only Vincent has played a down at offensive lineman so far at the D-1 level. It is likely that Fisher, Keele, and McMullin will see some playing time this year, but they have not played D-1 ball so far. Crowton will undoubtedly find a way to get some playing time for them this year to prepare them for next year.

If either Mohetau or Kuresa postpone their mission plans, 2004 may not be another rebuilding year for the offensive line. If they both leave, BYU would be forced into consecutive years of rebuilding the line.

The question is how Crowton and offensive line coach Lance Reynolds will address and resolve the inexperience of the offensive line in back to back years?

The answer may be in finding continuity of players if Keele impresses as a four year starter. This strategy of developing younger players by giving them playing time early in their careers could bring stability to the position, instead of the high rate of turnover that now exists in the program.

On the other hand if Willing, Kuresa, and Mohetau leave on a missions after this season, BYU will reap the future benefits of a mega talented offensive line playing together at the same time.

Here's a look at a potential starting line up in 2008 when QB Ben Olson will be a senior:

RT R.J. Willing, 6' 6", 310 pounds, Junior

RG Jake Kuresa, 6' 4", 330 pounds, Senior

C Dallas Reynolds, 6' 4", 300 pounds, Junior

C or Junior Kato, 6' 3", 300 pounds, Senior

LG Ofa Mohetau, 6' 3", 330 pounds, Senior

LT Jason Speredon, 6' 5", 290 pounds, Junior

If we combine those players' talents listed above with the talents of Olson and other future recruits, BYU will have a very dangerous offensive team down the road. These possible line up are speculative, but nonetheless possible.

The offensive line is a huge key to how well BYU will perform offensively this season and for seasons to come. Crowton has recruited key hogs up front with Mohetau, Willing, Reynolds, Kuresa, and Speredon.

BYU may have to wait some years until LDS missions to fully realize the postential of its signed recruits, but the rewards and virtues of patience may well be worth the wait.

© 2003 TotalBlueSports.com

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