I think this is possibly the most important position BYU must figure out in spring practice. Why? It will not matter who our quarterback, running backs, or wide receivers are if they do not have time to throw the ball, get a running lane or get open downfield. The O-Line is critical to the success or failure of our offense.
The personnel: We return our starting guards in Jake Kuresa and Ofa Mohetau. We all hope they are in better playing shape this fall. They should be good. The Center has already been an item of debate. I see Scott Young filling the void, but Nick Longshore, Hanale Vincent, Rob Robinson and Lance Reynolds, Jr. will likely get some reps here.
The tackle spots will also be critical. It is likely that Eddie Keele will start at the left tackle spot. The right tackle spot will probably be a battle between Longshore, McGiven, and Paul Fisher. There are dark horse candidates at the tackle and center positions in David Sollami, Mike Dudzinski and R.J. Willing.
This will be one of the main areas of competition. We return Matt Berry, John Beck and Jackson Brown. Head coach Gary Crowton has said the position is wide open this spring and this trio plus junior college standout Jason Beck will all battle hard – as it should be. May the BEST quarterback win between Berry, Beck, Brown and Beck. We will probably not have a starter named until fall practice for this position.
The Cougars return a solid stable of running backs. Reynaldo Brathwaite and Marcus Whalen will be the headliners, but Curtis Brown will push these two for playing time and possibly a starting role. Thomas Stancil will continue to develop his role as a solid spot player. Naufahu Tahi will likely start at fullback. We need more depth at this position.
BYU finally has the NFL prototype receivers we have often dreamed of in Todd Watkins, Joseph Griffin, Riley Weber and Michael Morris and Travis Brown. Spring practice will a really interesting time to really see an immediate transformation in his position. These five will likely compete for the starting slots this fall with Austin Collie, Chris Hale, Matt Allen, David Christensen, Rod Wilkerson, Jason Kukahiko and Brett Cooper. Watkins, Griffin and maybe Morris, Brown, Weber and Collie could be the type of talent and threat that could play every down. I hope so.
The effectiveness of the wide receiver position goes back to the offensive line and quarterback. We need time for the receivers to get open and the quarterback must deliver the ball.
BYU returns Daniel Coats, Phil Niu, Aissac Aiono, and Jeremy Gillespie. Coats is the likely starter, but he'll be pushed by Niu. Aiono and Gillespie are solid backups. All four will see reps this spring and fall.
This could be our deepest position on the team next fall. We have returning starters in Brady Poppinga and John Denney. Shaun Nua or C.J. Ah You will push Denney for his starting spot, but Poppinga is untouchable. Justin Carlson-Maddux will also vie for a lot of playing time.
Added to this impressive mix will be three young top talents during spring practice in T.J. Sitake, Michael Marquardt and Judd Anderton. They will all make a bigger impact in 2005.
The Cougars only have two excellent tackles in Daniel Marquardt and Manaia Brown and a capable backup in Nathan Kolbaba. Everyone hopes Brown will get and stay fully healthy next season. He is scheduled for shoulder surgery next week. As long as these three stay healthy, we should be solid. If either Marquardt or Brown goes down, that will hurt the Cougars. If that happens, look for Nua, Denney or Carlson-Maddux to pinch-hit in the middle.
This is another area that will be hotly contested. There are three spots available with 5-6 capable starters. This means we will likely see a lot of rotating next fall, which is a good thing. I am very interested in hearing how the linebackers look in spring practice. The middle will probably be manned by Cameron Jensen and KC Bills; one outside spot between Justin Luettgerodt and Bryant Atkinson; and the strongside spot by Paul Walkenhorst and Lawrence Cowan. Justin Williams and Nate Preston will more depth. There should be some great battles for the starting spots.
BYU has verbal commitment from JC standouts Turmurian Moreland, Eddie Scipio and Gregory Lovely to sign in February, but they will not make an impact until fall. However, spring practices will afford Shannon Benton and Nathan Soelberg a lot of reps. If Brandon Heaney is granted another year, he will also be in the mix. This means that Benton and Soelberg will be penciled in as the starters heading into fall.
The real competition will begin in August. I believe the cornerback and quarterback positions could be open for competition until the final days of fall practice.
There is little doubt who will start here. Aaron Francisco is the "Cougar" and Jon Burbidge and James Allen are the "Kats." The question is who are their backups? Quinn Gooch should be a healthy backup to Francisco. Kellen Fowler will backup a Kat and Joel Theler will play to see who also gets the field.
It is a real possibility one or two of the cornerback recruits may also move to safety if BYU does not recruit a top-notch one from the JC ranks. I don't know if Drew Mugleston will redshirt, play or serve a mission this fall, but he could also compete for some reps.
BYU returns Matt Payne for kicking and punting as well as its deep snapper, John Denney. Todd Watkins is an excellent backup as a place kicker.
It would be nice to see at least one punt and one kickoff returned this fall for touchdowns. Our most exciting kick return specialists will not play until fall. Eddie Scipio and Antwon Guidry (if BYU lands him) have been spectacular as junior college stars. Until then, Brett Cooper, Nate Soelberg and James Allen will get reps.
We should learn of any new coaching staff additions or changes within the next few weeks. I believe Crowton will serve as his own offensive coordinator next season. The big question is whether he hires a new wide receiver or quarterback coach to fill Robbie Bosco's vacant position.
BYU has verbal commitments from Jacob Bower, Nick Alletto and Terrence Brown who will all serve LDS missions before enrolling. Still uncertain is whether Matt Putnam and Drew Mugleston will play, redshirt or serve their missions first. The Cougars are hot on the trail of other highly recruited high school stars as well as several JC standouts.
With a doubt, the 2004 season will prove to be a watershed year for Gary Crowton's Cougars.
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