BYU 2004 Success Begins & Ends with Offensive Line

BYU spring football practices begin in five days and inquiring minds mainly want to know three things: How gifted are the wide receivers? Who's starting at quarterback? What the heck is going on with our offensive line? This is my pre-spring preview and answer for question No. 3.

RIGHT TACKLE

No 1: Scott Young
With a 500-plus bench press, Young has the makings of a punishing run blocker. That is a freakish amount of strength for a college player. You may recall the Deseret Morning News reported last fall that Young completed the NFL bench press standard 51 times! There may be some unhappy defensive ends this fall because somebody is going to get hurt.

Upper body strength is especially critical for an offensive lineman, but Young also squatted an impressive 626 pounds, according to the Deseret News. That is what may really set Young apart. If you're a college lineman and you're squatting 450 pounds, you're doing all right.

Young reportedly has the side-to-side athleticism to play on an island, which tackles are often left to do. With his strength, no defensive end will go through him. Young will ultimately force all of them to try to get around him. Can Young prevent that? His success in passing downs – and therefore his chances starting at right tackle – rest with his footwork.

For those worried about Young's transition from defense to offense, his junior college experience as an All-American defensive tackle should be a huge bonus. Defensive linemen are typically better athletes than offensive lineman and sometimes make better players than those who have played offensive line their whole life.

Run blocking should come easily to Young where strength is the most important thing. During a run, you're just trying to pull and take someone out. On passing downs, linemen have to rely much more heavily on technique. If Young can consistently show coaches during spring ball that is he not apt to making mistakes, the job is his. Ahhhh, a mistake-free offensive line. Kind of makes you feel at peace with the world, doesn't it?

Young could also start at guard if those two positions weren't manned by BYU's most talented linemen. Young's 6-5 height also pushes him outside. In any event, Young wins the starting right tackle job and, I suspect, will be an improvement over Brandon Stephens.

No 2: Gary McGiven
He did well subbing for Brandon Stephens as a freshmen and is regarded as the offensive line's smartest football player, taking Scott Jackson cerebral role from last year.

I hope the Cougar coaches leave him at right tackle to develop another year and assume the No. 1 spot when Young graduates. The 2005 offensive line could be dominant. Eddie Keele, Ofa Mohetau, Lance Reynolds, Jake Kuresa and McGiven will have had significant playing time together and should work well as a group – if Mohetau does not leave on an LDS mission.

LEFT TACKLE

No 1: Eddie Keele
Keele is right up there with Kuresa as the line's most athletic players. Out of the three freshmen who started last year, I wonder who will improve the most. Mohetau had the most room for improvement, while Keele needed more time to recoup from his mission. Keele is amongst the strongest offensive linemen with a 400-pound bench press. Being a good offensive lineman basically boils down to: How strong you are? How low you can get in your first two steps? How quickly you can take your first two steps? Keele has the quickest first step on the offensive line (with center Lance Reynolds a close second). That's why he won the critical left tackle position as a freshman early in the season.

You have to give him a lot of credit for manning the tough left tackle as well as he did just a few months back from a mission. There is a ton of pressure on left tackles to get the job done. If a left tackle makes a mistake, his quarterback gets blindsided. Though BYU's quarterbacks got hurt, none of them got hurt because Keele didn't do his job.

No 2: Paul Fisher or Mike Dudzinski
Both players signed with the Utes out of high school, but never played for them – opting instead to serve LDS missions first. Both will battle for the second spot. Both stand at 6-7, but Fisher is lighter on his feet. Dudzinski is reportedly thick like a guard, but is too tall to play inside and will have to win a tackle spot. I don't see Matt Berry, John Beck or Jason Beck wanting to throw over a 6-7, 340 pound lineman.

What I like most about these two is their height. Long wingspan tackles get to the defensive lineman quicker when the lineman is trying a bull rush. The defender has to try to move their hands out of the way, thus allowing the tackle to force the lineman to try and go around them.

However, long wingspans also increase the difficulty in building strength. You have to raise and lower the bar a lot farther in the bench press and you have to lower your body farther to do squats.

Others to consider: Nick Longshore and Kai Jones.

CENTER

No 1: Lance Reynolds, Jr.
When you hear your starting center is a former linebacker, you want to laugh, cry, scream, cringe, or maybe even faint. But the more you hear about Reynolds, the more you start to think that he could be the one guy who could pull it off.

Look at his resume: Son of former NFL offensive lineman and Div. 1 offensive line coach Lance Reynolds. He can legally acquire football knowledge from a proven coach year-around. His bench press approaches the 400-pound range. You typically see college offensive lineman bench press numbers range from 385-450 pounds. Reynolds is right where you need him to be.

Reynolds maybe the fastest offensive lineman on the team in an era where BYU has a ton of fast big guys. His first step quickness is second only to Keele's. He is that sorely needed intense leader on and off the field. Having played defense himself, he already has a good knowledge of what to expect from defenses. Has been practicing the position for several months now. And, let's face it, there is not a lot of competition for him with the graduation of Scott Jackson.

What can you say to a guy who has the respect of his teammates, understands the position and is strong and quick? How about, "The job is yours until someone else takes it away from you." As far as the linemen are concerned, there isn't anyone else. And that, I think, is huge for this football team.

No 2: Hanale Vincent
During spring practice, two player qualities that coaches look for are toughness and intensity. Vincent reportedly does not possess these two qualities in spades. He apparently is not as well respected by teammates as Reynolds. Vincent also isn't the most cerebral player. As Jackson's backup last year, he has experience at center, but didn't impress anyone. He's like the Todd Mortensen of centers. You don't expect great play out of him, you just don't want him to lose the game for you.

Others to consider: R.J. Willing.
Still only 18 and in need of further physical development, Willing is very talented and benches more than 300 pounds. I think he will end up as BYU's third-string center. Even though he's not the strongest, Willing is a great athlete and could also end up on the 2-deep at guard.

An aside about Willing: LDS missions are career-killer's for a lot of football players, but they are especially hard on players who graduate from high school at age 16. That means you'll probably redshirt and play a year before your mission, leaving you three years to get everything back when you return. That's not enough time, in my opinion. I think players who leave for their missions straight out of high school are doing the smart thing, if they are old enough to do so. From a football standpoint, it would have definitely benefitted Willing to head to the Missionary Training Center instead of the football team out of high school.

RIGHT GUARD

No. 1: Jake Kuresa
Kuresa takes a lot of heat from fans because of his size and weight; maybe it's deserved, maybe it's not. However, when it comes down to it, Kuresa is one of the two best athletes on the offensive line. He has NFL athleticism.

Perhaps if he had played his high school football in a 5A Texas league, he would have arrived at BYU as highly billed as Mohetau. Even playing in exposure-starved Cache valley, he still ended up a top 100 national recruit.

It is uncanny that a player who looks as out of shape as he does can move like that, is as strong as he is, and can hold down his starting job with little problem. Kuresa is simply a gifted athlete.

When you're playing sports at a high level, talent matters most. I don't want to hear your Rudy/Todd Mortensen speeches. Talent matters most. Kuresa can bench more than 420 pounds now, putting him in that second-tier group behind Young, which is not an embarrassment, along with Mohetau. He has the best feet on the team. Watching Kuresa pull and complete an open-field block is, in some ways, more beautiful than a touchdown pass. He could play tackle, but he's just so dang big.

Reynolds, who weighs 80-100 pounds less than Kuresa, even has difficulty comparing with him athletically. When Kuresa's light bulb goes off, he can be really, really, really good. The sky is the limit for this guy. He has his downside, but his upside is just too tremendous to dismiss. Kuresa graduates with four letters.

No. 2: Brian Sanders
Sanders isn't that strong for his weight. He can't bench too much more than his reported 340-pound weight. He's not that quick either. He'll have to make a name for himself taking up a lot of space. What he has going for him is good size. He's also considered a smart football player, perhaps even as knowledgeable as McGiven. I'll place him at No. 2 here, but he's bait for someone else to move up on the depth chart.

LEFT GUARD

No. 1: Ofa Mohetau
Mohetau is a charter member of the line's "Big Three" with Keele and Kuresa. He's huge, fast, incredibly strong, and in need of serious improvement to reach his potential. However, he's got the things you can't teach and time to learn the things you can.

When different defenses start to make sense to him, he will start to make defenders hate life as everyone has been expecting. Throughout the week's game preparation, players are taught to memorize every possible defense they will see during that game and how to respond accordingly. During the game, the Center makes the first line call. He coordinates with the guard who to block. At times last year, none of that registered with Mohetau when he failed to block anybody.

I would expect most of that stuff to sink in now. If not, hopefully Reynolds can effectively communicate which guy he should block.

Even as a true freshman, Mohetau was physically dominant. BYU fans can justly expect great things out of him as a sophomore. I believe Mohetau will improve exponentially by the time he is a senior as he continues to develop his substantial talent. He's currently benching more than 420 pounds right now.

No. 2: David Sollami or R.J. Willing
I don't know much about Sollami other than he was a beast coming out of high school and has had time to recover from his mission to Australia. This position is fairly open, but I believe Sollami has a great chance at it based on his time in the system. However, Willing could just as easily win this spot.

Other players to consider: Nathan Hall or Junior Kato – although I'm uncertain of Kato's status with the team.

Based on the personnel and new position coach in player-friendly taskmaster Jeff Grimes, the BYU offensive live has a chance to be good – and at least entertaining. However, they need boatloads of time to gel. They are a line with lots of individual talent. My private plea to them: practice, practice, practice.

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