In evaluating this critical position, it is natural to start where the biggest difference lies: the debut of new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. Grimes accepted less money and a lower position (he was Arizona State's running game coordinator -- running backs and offensive line) in agreeing to transfer his sizable coaching resume to Provo from the Pac-10. Why? Though there were undoubtedly different factors in his decision, the reason he likes best is the improved quality of life his family have found in Provo.
Already, Grimes has drawn complementary praise and comments likening his anticipated impact to defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall, who raised BYU from a No. 69 overall NCAA defensive ranking to No. 14 in less than a year – with the same players from a year before.
Grimes went about spring practice trying to instill an aggressive and cohesive attitude among his offensive linemen. He preaches the mentality and philosophy of an offensive line that sets the tone as the toughest unit on offense. If he's able to make converts out of his players who match and withstand the smash-mouth tactics of opposing defenses, Grimes and his line will be the difference radically upgrading BYU's offense in 2004.
Yes, we've heard the "young and inexperienced" tag placed on BYU's offensive line last year by head coach Gary Crowton. Guess what? BYU's offensive line will be even younger than a year ago with the departure of senior stalwarts Quinn Christensen, Scott Jackson and Brandon Stephens.
Replacing these seniors will be a host of highly-regarded linemen short on experience, but long on talent.
Sophomores Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa will likely play the outside tackle positions.
Keele was thrust into the starting left tackle spot early last season following his LDS mission and received a baptism by fire. He took rookie lumps before a midseason injury sidelined him for a few games. Keele, at 6-6, has good size for an offensive tackle and should rebound nicely from last season at either tackle position.
Kuresa started every game at guard last season, also as a freshman. Grimes indicated in spring he would give Kuresa a shot at the tackle position. If so, Kuresa is likely to perform well there. He played pretty well during his freshman year and he has worked hard to lower his weight in the off-season.
BYU has some very capable backups this season at tackle positions in Gary McGiven, Paul Fisher and R.J. Willing.
McGiven saw a fair amount of playing time last season backing up Brandon Stephens and performed adequately. He'll be in the mix for a lot of playing time again this fall.
Willing has been mentioned as an emerging competitor for a starting slot as well. Willing was a top recruit from Hawaii who has impressed coaches and teammates with his work ethic and overall skills.
Fisher has great size and will add depth to the tackle position as will Nate Hall and David Sollami.
The likely starters after spring were considered to be Scott Young and Ofa Mohetau. However, Crowton raised the possibility last week that Mohetau may redshirt this fall to concentrate on his studies. This will undoubtedly be finalized during fall camp in coming weeks.
Young came to BYU as one of the most highly regarded JC defensive line recruits ever signed. After performing adequately on defense his first season, Young switched to the offensive line and redshirted last season to learn a new set of skills. He possesses arguably the strongest upper body of any player on the roster.
While he is yet to play a single down as an offensive lineman at the Div. 1 collegiate level, Young has come a long way in proving himself in practice. He should emerge a leader of the offensive line this season.
No offensive line recruit has ever come to Provo with more expectations and national publicity than Mohetau. Mohetau saw playing time as a true freshman, a gargantuan task for any true freshman. Mohetau received his lumps, make his share of rookie mistakes, but also proved effective at times.
Nobody doubts Mohetau's abilities. If he plays, Mohetau could have a breakout season under Grimes' tutelage. Talent is not the issue with BYU's two likely starters at guard, inexperience is.
Brian Sanders probably made the biggest strides in spring practice. Sanders may start if Mohetau does not play.
Another player looking to prove his worth in fall camp is Junior Kato, a highly recruited player who is now back from his LDS mission and has a spring practice under his belt. Other backups include Scott Tidwell and JC transfer Nick Longshore.
Lance Reynolds, Jr., concerted from linebacker a year ago, is the likely starter at center. Having bulked up considerably, Reynolds started at center during the Blue and White spring scrimmage before getting injured literally on the first snap of the ball.
Reynolds is fully recovered now and has earned the confidence of his fellow linemen entering fall camp, which is critical for the starting center.
Backups: Hanale Vincent saw significant playing time as backup center last season and will likely backup again this season.
Longshore may also get a shot at center this fall as well.
Two other linemen of note include top recruits Rey Feinga and Travis Bright. Feinga was named Utah's (high school) Player of the Year last season while Bright, also highly recruited as a prep, recently completed his LDS mission. Either could break the two-deep lineup as guards or tackles. They are that talented.
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