Jeff Grimes, BYU's current offensive line coach, is working to create a new breed of Cougar linemen. If all goes as planned, the offensive line will be the most aggressive, nasty unit found on the BYU roster. Look out BYU fans, here come the "Grimes Reapers."
"We run a lot and lift weights a lot," said starting center Lance Reynolds, Jr. "Right now the O-line is doing a lot of boxing. Both the O-line and D-line are involved in this, which helps with your footwork and helps with your hand movement."
Bronco Mendenhall declared that he intends BYU to be the "best conditioned team in the country." Coach Mendenhall instituted a rigorous strength and conditioning program overseen by strength and conditioning Coach Jay Omer. Over two months into the new workout regime, BYU's linemen appear a few pounds lighter than last season.
"I think all the offensive linemen have stepped up their effort level," said Reynolds. "Just today we had a meeting with coach Mendenhall and he was saying how proud he was of us with our work in the weight room. We had testing on Monday and in our testing like 34 of the guys on our team are over 300 pound power cleaners and that's an awesome thing and I think our goal was 30. We're excited because we feel like everyone is working hard.
"We've come together as an O-line and have said that we want to be known as the guys who are setting the pace for the offense, and I think a lot of that is happening. On the field last year it seemed like if at any point the O-line got down or was having a hard time, the team started to fall with them. Like they say, it starts up front and I believe that and I think the O-line has stepped up to the challenge as leaders."
Reynolds is the leading candidate for the starting center position. While Coach Mendenhall indicated that all starting spots are open, the competition for first string center will likely be brief. BYU announced yesterday that Reynolds has been named to the Spring watch list for the Dave Remington Trophy, an award given to the nation's top center.
Three seasons ago, Reynolds would not have even dreamed of being considered for and award given to centers. That is because Reynolds only made the switch to center for spring practice last year. Before then, Reynolds was 50 pounds lighter and played linebacker. Holes in the offensive line depth chart led coaches to ask Reynolds to switch positions. With a little, well, actually a lot, of home cooking and some time in the weight room, Reynolds bulked up and won the starting center role.
"I've always had confidence in Lance," said BYU quarterback John Beck of his center. "I remember the first time when Coach Crowton transferred him over from middle linebacker to center, I was kind of thinking, ‘Man, this guys is kind of little,' but Lance has bulked up in weight and Lance does his homework. He may not be the 350 pound giant but he lifts just as much as those 350 pound giants do. He was in the weight room today and I think he benched 475 on the bench. I mean, Lance is a beast when it comes to strength."
One reason why Beck has such confidence in his senior center is because Beck understands that BYU is a life long passion for Reynolds.
"Lance is passionate about being here at BYU," Beck said. "His dad is a coach and he grew up a BYU fan and he and his family have been to what, all the BYU bowl games? Lance is BYU through and through and that's one thing that's different. When you know you have someone like that who is passionate about BYU like that with all these things, it might separate him from those who don't have that. As a quarterback you want that kind of person right in front of you. He also has the abilities to do well and that gives me even more confidence in him when you have someone like that on your offensive line and as your center."
On the flip side, Reynolds has personally seen Beck grow steadily from a young returned missionary thrown into the refiner's fire of big time college football action. For Reynolds, the confidence doesn't just flow one way.
"Basically I think that John, over the past year, has improved tremendously as a quarterback," said Reynolds. "To be put into the situations that he was put in as a young quarterback with very little college experience, and, to fight through some injuries and getting dinged up a little bit, I have 100% confidence that he will learn this offense and that he'll do a great job. He has a strong arm and a good mind, but more than that off the field he is the type of person the players really rally around."
The departure of head coach and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton made room for the addition of new offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Coach Anae brings Texas Tech's revised version of the BYU offense of the '80's and '90's. No porition will be more affected by a new offensive scheme than those pigskin slingers know as quarterbacks. Beck is not intimidated by the change, however. For him, it is something of a return to days past.
"You know the funny thing is, I was never a scrambler or out of the pocket kind of guy," said Beck. "In high school I was strictly a pocket passer, and all of a sudden I came here and Coach Mendenhall had a defense where there's blitz, blitz, blitz I was able to get outside the pocket and make plays happen. I don't know if that's my strength but I'm able to do it. I think this new offense is going to be awesome and the best thing right now is the team is excited and when we come to practice we're excited because the plays are working and we are trying to get them down the best we can.
"You've got a lot of these guys on offense out here who want to make this offense work, want to score touchdowns and want to win. That's what it's all about and really the ultimate thing. It doesn't matter how many yards are thrown for or how many yards are ran for; what matters is did the offense do it's job that allowed us to win. It's all about winning and that's what everybody bases everything off of. It's all about winning and it's not about what this offense can provide the individual player. We should be excited because this is an offense that's going to give us the ability to score points to win ballgames."
To this point the player-coach interaction has centered on preparing physically and mentally for spring ball. Now that spring ball has arrived, the time for talk and preparation is over. The team and coaching staff must put their plans into effect. Success will be gauged by how well the players can meet the demands of the coaches.
Said Beck: "If things go as we've planned and we go out to practice with the goals Coach Mendenhall sets for us, this is what's going to happen: every day Coach Mendenhall is going to set a standard, and every day he is going to expect us on both sides of the ball to reach that standard. Now, if we can reach that standard everyday and maximize our capabilities and maximize our potential then when spring ball is done, we will be able to look back and say, ‘We got everything accomplished that we wanted to accomplish.' Coach Mendenhall is always talking to us about how we need that swagger back and I think if we can have that good spring ball, we can work on getting that swagger back."