Offensive Line Review and Preview
The BYU offensive line was a position group that was seeking improvement and consistency in 2015 but instead saw a position group that was in flux and featured inconsistent performances. BYU offensive line coach Garett Tujague was part of the mass exodus of BYU coaches to the University of Virginia so newly hired offensive line coach, Mike Empey, will be responsible for building a capable and cohesive unit to protect BYU's quarterbacks and pave the way for the Cougars' running backs. The positive news for BYU along their front line on offense is that they only lose one player to graduation and there are returned missionaries set to return to the program to bolster the ranks. BYU's recruiting efforts under Kalani Sitake and Mike Empey also yielded four linemen as part of the 2016 recruiting class.
Ryker Mathews is the lone departing lineman for BYU and leaves a hole on the left side of the line at left tackle. Brad Wilcox (6-7, 320-pounds) saw extensive action at both tackle spots in 2015 but finished the year on the left side in relief of Mathews, who struggled with injury and inconsistency. Wilcox had his own issues, especially in the run game, but he'll likely get the first crack at locking down the blindside in spring ball.
A revelation in fall camp last year was the play of returned missionary Austin Hoyt (6-8, 270-pounds). Former head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he wanted to put Hoyt on the defensive line because of his athleticism but he remained on the offensive line following his return from the mission field and made up for his lack of strength and bulk with his quickness and athleticism as he garnered more and more playing time as the year progressed, ultimately seeing action in 9 games. Hoyt figures to be in the mix at either tackle spot but his athletic ability and long frame leads one to believe that he'll end up anchoring the blindside for BYU, whether that's during the 2016 season or in years to come.
Another big body to keep an eye on in the tackle mix is Ului Lapuaho. Lapuaho was pressed into action at guard for much of the 2015 season as injuries plagued the BYU offensive line. Lapuaho also had his struggles staying healthy, but when he's on his game he might just be the best lineman that BYU has at their disposal. With ideal lineman dimensions (6-7, 330-pounds), Lapuaho has the mean streak and athleticism to potentially be a guy who earns a paycheck in the NFL and his best position at the next level will be either at guard or as a right tackle. The question for Lapuaho will be if he can hone his abilities and polish them with the 2 years he has remaining at BYU.
At left guard, BYU is in a good place as stalwart Kyle Johnson (6-4, 303-pounds) will return for his senior season and is expected to lock that position down. Johnson struggled with a persistent back injury in 2015 that limited him to action in 10 games and starting just 8. Johnson has been solid and consistent at left guard when healthy and the hope is that he'll be healthy and able to contribute in a big way in 2016. Should Johnson falter, Ului Lapuaho, as mentioned above, will be a candidate to shift inside.
A freshman last year, J.J. Nwigwe (6-5, 265-pounds) is a player who, with a solid off-season, could be a contributor for BYU and challenge for major playing time at either guard spot. Nwigwe saw action in 3 games last year and he will be expected to play a larger role in 2016.
Another true freshman from 2015 to keep an eye on will be Demetrius Davis (6-4, 275 pounds). Davis, a Pleasant Grove High School (UT) product, redshirted in 2015 but with a full offseason of training he'll be a guy to keep an eye on in spring ball.
At right guard, Tuni Kanuch (6-3, 330-pounds) is a question mark considering he's been plagued by injuries throughout his BYU career. When Kanuch has been on the field, he's a mauler in the run game but needs work on his pass sets. If Kanuch can get into a consistent groove and stay in shape (conditioning has also hampered him – played in 12 games in 2015 but only started 7), he could finally live up to his enormous potential.
Freshman Leroy Tanoa'i (6-5, 290-pounds)was a surprise addition to the BYU roster in 2015. The former 3-star Utah commit returned home early from his mission and the Utes didn't have a scholarship available, so their loss became BYU's gain. Tanoai is the half-brother of BYU head coach Kalani Sitake but he's a capable lineman who should be able to contribute during the 2016 season after showing well on the Scout team.
A converted nose tackle, Jaterrius Gulley (6-2, 340-pounds) was a player that BYU coaches had hopes could develop into a solid guard after he made the shift last season. Gulley has worked to cut his weight down but, and according to reports out of practice, made strides in 2015 while playing in four games and starting one. Gulley is extremely strong as a former power-lifter in high school and could develop nicely if he continues to cut down on his weight and picks up the new offensive playbook.
At center, BYU appeared set with Tejan Koroma (6-0, 290-pounds) returning for his junior season. The former freshman All-American was All-Independent First Team in 2015 and started 12 games, missing only the San Jose State game. However, his status with the football programs going forward is unsettled and rumors abound about whether he plays this coming season or is suspended. Koroma is a rock in the pivotal center position for BYU and is the strongest player on the team so his missing any time would be a major blow to BYU's frontline.
The issue for BYU if Koroma misses time in 2016 is that the depth chart behind him is up in the air. Parker Dawe (6-3, 295-pounds) served as Koroma's primary backup in 2015, playing 10 games while starting two, but his play left a lot to be desired. His younger brother, Zac Dawe (6-4, 274-pounds), will return from a mission this summer and could be a candidate to shift back over to the offensive line after being slated out of high school to play on the defensive line for BYU under Bronco Mendenhall's tenure. Dawe was listed on BYU's release on signing day announcing his return to the program as a defensive lineman, so expect him to start out on the defensive side of the ball.
Another freshman who saw action in 2015 and is in line for a bigger role this coming season is Jacob Jimenez (6-5, 286-pounds). Jimenez is a guy who is capable of playing any of the interior positions on the line and should be a better player after having an off-season to transform his body. Jimenez got early looks at center in fall camp last season and could prove to be a key piece in 2016 if he's capable of handling the demands of the center position.
Other players who spent time on the BYU scout team in 2015 include Darren Denucci (6-4, 306-pounds), Quin Ficklin (6-3, 250-pounds), Zach “Figgs” Hofheins (6-4, 280-pounds), and Brian Rawlinson (6-7, 285-pounds).
Returned missionaries Thomas Shoaf and Addison Pulsipher are back on campus and should be in shape come fall camp. Shoaf was player who coaches raved about in 2013 as he redshirted that season. His frame (6-6, 265-pounds) suggests he'll factor into the mix as a tackle as long as he's able to add on sufficient weight. Pulsipher is a guy who figures to be a longer term project at guard. Addison, who's the younger brother of BYU linebacker Adam Pulsipher, will need to bulk up (6-6, 260-pounds) before he can truly be considered in the mix for playing time. Other missionaries set to return in time for the 2016 season include Zac Dawe, as mentioned above, Austin Chambers (6-4, 270-pounds), and Chandon Herring (6-7, 260-pounds). Chambers and Herring’s roles in 2016 look to be slim as it usually takes a while for linemen to get into shape and contribute following serving their missions.
In The Recruiting Pipeline
Throughout the last year a lot has been written about BYU's lack of committed offensive linemen in the 2016 recruiting class. Once Kalani Sitake was hired, and in turn hired Mike Empey as BYU's offensive line coach, that position became an recruiting emphasis for BYU. Their late surge yielded four additions in Caden Haws (6-2, 275-pounds), J.T. Gentry (6-5, 285-pounds), Lisala Tai (6-7, 310-pounds), and Clark Barrington (6-6, 275-pounds).
Caden Haws recently announced via Twitter that he will postpone his mission plans until after the 2016 season and suit up for BYU in the fall. Gentry, Tai, and Barrington are currently slated to depart on missions right out of high school and return for the 2018 season. Haws could play a role at the center position in 2015 with Tejan Koroma's status unsettled. Offensive line coach Mike Empey said Haws is probably the most college-ready lineman BYU signed in this last recruiting class so odds are he will get a shot to prove his abilities.
BYU may add another body to the mix as news broke earlier this week that Miami (FL) offensive guard Joe Brown (6-4, 320-pounds) will leave the Hurricanes in May and transfer to BYU. Brown, who redshirted as a true freshman in Coral Gables, has petitioned the NCAA for a hardship waiver to allow him to play immediately in the 2016 season but it appears, as of now, that he may get denied, thus forcing him to sit out and have 2 years to play 2 in 2017. If Brown does get the waiver, he'd add depth the offensive line ranks immediately. Rumblings have also come out that Brown could transition back to the defensive line at BYU, which is where he starred in high school. It's a wait-and-see approach on what will happen with Brown in 2016.