Old vs. New: Offensive Line Success "Systematic"

Several BYU coaches have admitted over the years that, as a general rule of thumb, LDS missions do not work to the Cougars advantage in developing players – except offensive linemen.

Many skill players, in fact, never regain their pre-mission athleticism, heart, desire, intensity and form.

For offensive linemen, the two-year LDS mission layoff benefits them in that they grow substantially in maturity and physically. BYU's offensive line recruiting efforts over the past few years has reflected that philosophy by recruiting mostly LDS high school recruits that usually serve missions. This year, they have only signed returned missionary JC lineman Nick Longshore, missed out on Taitusi Lutui and are not recruiting a JC center, as many hoped they would.

Experience has taught us that junior college offensive linemen are not always a viable immediate fix for the same reason that a rare few OL recruits will contribute immediately as true freshmen all-stars.

Indeed, learning the complexities of more complex college systems takes time and experience – and that equates to making a bunch of inevitable rookie mistakes during games. That makes the overall performance of the offensive line susceptible to mediocrity.

However, redshirt JC players are likely more ready to contribute within a shorter time period than a redshirt freshman because two years of experience at a junior college is certainly a distinct advantage.

Simply put, even if BYU had recruited several JC offensive linemen this year, the rewards would be, for the most part, manifested next year rather than this season. Seemingly, Gary Crowton and Lance Reynolds must believe BYU has enough talented 3-4 year players in the pipeline to develop starters for 2005 without relying on a lot of junior college help.

If you take a look back at LaVell Edwards' and Roger French's final years, the starters were almost always juniors and seniors. In fact, there were several years in a row when the three interior offensive linemen would be either juniors or seniors and the tackles would be the either one year younger or older. This two-year pattern repeated itself several years in a row. For example:

Year 1: LT: SR; LG: JR; C: JR; RG: JR; RT: SR.
Year 2: LT: JR; LG: SR; C: SR; RG: SR; RT: JR.
Year 3: LT: SR; LG: JR; C: JR; RG: JR; RT: SR.
Year 4: LT: JR; LG: SR; C: SR; RG: SR; RT: JR.

Using this system, BYU had two or three starters graduate each year, but would always have another two or three experienced, mature senior starters return. Typically, linemen that started as juniors had been in the system about five years, including their two-year LDS missions – preparing to become starters. The experience of three years of spring ball, conditioning and learning behind veteran players benefits offensive linemen greatly. This system seemed to work for Edwards.

The difference between Edwards' and Crowton's approach is that Crowton brought with him the pro mentality (also used by every major college program) that plays the most talented players regardless of experience or maturity.

There is a high likelihood under Edwards' system that Ofa Mohetau, Jake Kuresa and probably Eddie Keele would not or barely have seen the light of day on the field last season. The problem with Crowton's approach is that, in the short term, the line will be susceptible to rookie mistakes (equating to mediocrity) until these young but very talented players learn the system and gain experience. The real rewards of the increased playing time of these young men will not be reaped until they are juniors and seniors – in 2005, 2006 or maybe 2007 or 2008 if LDS mission service beckons.

If he insists on playing the more talented younger players, the key for Crowton is to build some continuity so that BYU doesn't have to start from scratch every year when it comes to the offensive line. Starting seniors with little or no experience doesn't benefit his program in the short or long run. Hopefully, Crowton can learn from last year's mistakes and finds an approach that produces consistent excellence on BYU's offensive line.

Only then will the "boo birds" lose the shrill in their voices.

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