Troy Verde/Total Blue Sports

BYU's offensive line is improving, slowly but surely, according to their position coach, Mike Empey

They’re big, strong, and often times their position is overlooked one play and in the spotlight the next, Offensive linemen are the first line of attack and the efforts to make the unit effective can be a challenge. BYU’s offensive line coach Mike Empey painted a picture of some of the challenges linemen, both experienced and inexperienced, go through when it comes to developing their craft in a collegiate offensive system.

Fall camp for the BYU Cougars has come to an end as the season opener is just over a week away. Players have now been inundated with more advanced play and scheme concepts in an effort to turn the new coaching staffs program into a formidable machine.

“So far everybody looks good and we have a lot of new faces that weren’t there in the spring, so we’re trying to get them up to speed,” said BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey. “We slowed our install down a little bit [during the first week], and I think the guys picked it up really well. They’re where I would expect them to be right now and so far it’s been good.”

The BYU offensive line is where Coach Empey expected them to be at this point of fall camp, which is a good thing. However, that doesn’t mean his players are exactly where he wants them to be. There are some things that only time can fix.

“I have a good mix, “Empey said. “I have some guys that have started some games. I wish I had more that had a whole season under their belt. On the one front, I think we’re big and we’re talented and that’s fun to have a group like that. As far as me coming back and be a part of this has been fun because I played here and I’m a BYU guy. It feels a little bit more like a personal investment for me with this group of guys we have, so I want them all to be as successful as possible when it comes to being the best they can be. That part takes a little more time in some ways.”

BYU has two seniors in the offensive line group in Keyan Norman and Parker Dawe, with fellow senior Brad Wilcox's status still in question. There are also experienced juniors in Ului Lapuaho, Tuni Kanuch, Tejan Koroma, and Andrew Eide. The rest are underclassmen. Coach Empey’s coaching style is such that he tries to use specific facets found among his more seasoned lineman in a way to help leverage the development of younger more rapidly.

“We do have some experience up front. Ului Lapuaho and Tuni Kanuch have some good experience,” said Empey. “We’re trying to leverage the experience they have as players, and the maturity they have as players, into an advantage. Still even for the more veteran players, it can still be a challenge because everyone is new in this system.”

The older players have to simply worry about understanding the scheme and get comfortable executing it. However, some of the challenges the younger players go through entail applying the new scheme with game experience, which game experience can be hard to come by.

“When you have experienced players you can catch up, and that’s where we need to be right now,” Empey said. “The guys that have been in the battle before can use that experience, but then at the same time they have to learn all the new stuff. We try to transfer as much experience as we can to the new stuff. I mean, it’s much easier to coach a veteran player than to start from scratch simply because they’ve been polished a little more with how to use their technique in a game time situation.”

Coach Empey feels everyone is on the same page as far as experience in executing the scheme.

“They’re just learning and their minds can swim at times because of the new terminology, new techniques that fit our system, and our demeanor is different,” said Empey. “We’re going to be more aggressive than a team that’s just going fast all the time. We’re going to huddle, and we’re going to be way more physical. Our schemes are more geared towards guys that have time to prepare for every play. It’s just different. It’s like learning to write with your off-hand. Sure, you may know how to write with your right hand but do you know how to write with your left? The letters don’t change but there’s some learning that has to take place. That’s kind of how it is when you’re learning a new scheme.”

With the caliber of talent BYU has at the quarterback position, BYU’s offensive line has the benefit of having an experienced signal caller under center for both the first and second units.

“Really the first team and second team right now are getting quality reps and they’re all working with a good quarterback,” said Empey.

“There’s not really a first group or second group right now. There really isn’t a depth chart right now and it’s kind of a fluid thing. I’m kind of one of those coaches, and if you talk to most coaches across the country, they’re kind of the same way, if  you have a guy that is a returning starter it’s kind of his job to lose. If someone comes in and beats him out then that’s good for the team because that means we’re getting better.”

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