Vaitai becoming valuable at guard

Junior Manaaki Vaitai has been a steady and constant feature on the offensive line throughout spring camp. At 6 feet 3 inches and 307 pounds, Vaitai is one of the faster offensive linemen and it shows in his performances. As Coach Weber continues to work his players throughout the depth chart, the question of whether Vaitai will be starting or not will ultimately come down to him.

At the start of spring camp Manaaki Vaitai was situated at left guard, sandwiched between center Blair Tushaus and right tackle Solomone Kafu. Then about halfway through spring camp, he was switched to right guard where he continues to play.

"I started out at left guard but because we've had so many injuries coached moved me to right guard," Vaitai said. "I feel like I can play either one if that's what's needed, so it doesn't really matter too much to me because the technique is pretty much the same."

Vaitai is now playing the guard position that Brock Stringham started out playing. Due to a leg injury, Stringham is now in a boot and scoots around practice on a cart. When fall camp comes around, chances are Vaitai will battle with Stringham for that guard position.

"When Brock went down I was moved over because Braden [Hansen] came back from his injury and is now playing the guard spot where I was playing," Vaitai said. "Now I'm playing on the other side, and so when Brock comes back I guess we'll see what happens in fall camp.

"Regardless, the best player will play and if that's me then great, but if it's Brock then I have to be ready to help out wherever I can."

While some linemen have mentioned that the moving of individual players to different locations on the line is an advantage, Vaitai doesn't feel that way. Well, at least right now.

"I don't think it's an advantage now, but it will be in the future," he said. "Right now it's not because you don't have that chemistry and that's something you want to have a lot of as an offensive line. It makes it hard to play your best if you're constantly going from one side to the other.

"I do think it will be an advantage in the long run though, because if someone goes down, then guys can just go in and not miss a beat. So I don't think it's an advantage right now, but I do think it will be in the end when fall camp comes. We'll have a lot of guys that got a lot of reps at different positions and that will make us more versatile."

While it would appear that the offensive line hasn't been able to solidify itself in terms of a starting roster, there's a lot of information gathering that will be used to prepare the line for fall camp.

"I think we learned a lot about ourselves over spring camp," Vaitai said. "I think we learned more about what kind of an offensive line we want to be. Not to take anything away from Braden [Brown] or Braden Hansen, because we still have a lot of work to do, but I think we'll be more aggressive and physical this year than last year.

"I think we learned a lot about some of the younger guys and I think they learned a lot about themselves. I think we learned that there are some areas where we need to get better based on the type of offense and tempo that we want to run. We'll do a lot of offseason stuff to help us get ready for fall camp, so even though it might not look like it, I think we learned a lot that will help us in fall."

"When we get guys back and are at full strength for fall, we're going to have a lot of young guys that got a chance to play a lot in spring. So we'll have those guys and guys like Braden Brown and Braden Hansen, who have a ton of experience."

While experience is the best teacher, there will be three new faces on the offensive line at center and at both guard positions. Who will see a starting role is still up in the air.

"Well, we're not going to figure things out over spring camp," Vaitai said. "Right now we're just trying to get as much experience as we can and improve on the things we need to work on. When fall camp comes around, we'll figure things out then. The best five players will play and that will be it."

Will BYU fans see big ol' number 79 at the guard position when the Cougars open against Washington State?

"We'll see, I guess," Vaitai said with a smile. "I know I have made a lot of improvements and I've got a lot of chances to show the coaches what I can do and that I'm ready to play. I'm hoping that my number is called when everything is sorted out, but all of that will happen in the fall and not now. So, we'll see I guess."


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