Fall Practice Preview: The Offensive Line

Fall practices are less than a month away, so it is time to start breaking down the BYU roster by position group. Every practice session brings position battles between returning veterans and newcomers looking to make their mark. In 2006, several of those battles will take place on the interior of the Cougar offensive line.

Every season preview should start with the offensive line because it all begins up front. No other unit weighs more heavily on BYU's success. A good offensive line unit can make average skill position players look extraordinary, while a mediocre offensive line can make outstanding skill players look very ordinary.

Bookends

The Cougar offensive line will be anchored by two outstanding tackles in Jake Kuresa, 6-foot-4, 339 pounds, and Eddie Keele, 6-foot-5, 312 pounds. Both Kuresa and Keele have three years of starting experience heading into their senior year.

What does having two experienced and dominant offensive tackles give an offense? It gives a security on the edges that defensive coordinators like to attack. That allows a level of comfort for the quarterback that will lead to high productivity on most passing plays. Furthermore, two dominant offensive tackles can help mount a powerful running attack, especially when running off-tackle.

Kuresa and Keele are as dominant as any two offensive tackles in the Mountain West conference and could hold their own against most defensive fronts in the country. Kuresa has proven to be a very aggressive player who is very quick off the snap, which allows him to neutralize his assignment quickly while using his strength to complete that assignment.

Keele is a more prototypical offensive tackle type than Kuresa. Keele is very light on his feet and on most passing plays uses his superior technique is deny effective rush angles to opposing defensive ends. Keele can also be very aggressive off the ball on running plays. Kuresa and Keele should be the most dominant offensive tackle tandem at BYU since John Tait and Jason Bateman.

Dallas Reynolds, 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, came straight from his mission last year and earned a spot at starting guard, which he maintained throughout the year while being named to a freshman all-American team. Reynolds should only get better as he gains more experience.

The starting guard spot opposite Reynolds is still up in the air, but a healthy Travis Bright, 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, would quickly do away with any uncertainty. Prior to his injury, Bright was the most dominant a lineman on the practice field since John Tait. He will go a long way in taking over the void left by Brian Sanders and Terrance Brown.

Contingency

Jake Kuresa spent a lot of time playing offensive guard during spring practices. While this was in large part due to the limited number of healthy linemen, it opens the possibility that Kuresa could guard this season. He projects as a guard in the NFL, so a position switch this season may be a wise career move.

Bronco Mendenhall's coaching philosophy is to put his best 11 players on the field, and his assistants seem to have taken the same approach. If Bright is not healthy enough to go, offensive line Coach Jeff Grimes may need to move Kuresa to guard to have his best five players on the field because BYU is deeper with talent at tackle.

Battle at Center

One of the more intriguing position battles this fall could be for the center position between Sete Aulai, 6-foot, 313 pounds, and Vanderbilt transfer Tom Sorensen, 6-foot-4, 290 pounds. Aulai won the job during the spring, but Sorensen is set to give him a run for his money this fall.

Aulai has the advantage because he already has the spot, so Sorensen will have to prove clearly better to take it from him. The ball exchange between quarterback and center is essential to the success of any offensive play. At the close of spring practice, John Beck mentioned that the ball exchange with Aulai had been nearly flawless all spring.

Aulai also has the confidence in his fellow offensive linemen in making correct line calls. He is a quick and aggressive blocker, which earned the nickname "the Rhinoceros" from BYU's defensive linemen.

Tom Sorensen comes to BYU after and LDS mission and one year as the starting center for Vanderbilt. He came home in April and immediately started conditioning drills. He is creating a buzz among players about his work ethic and determination to get on the field this season.

Regardless of the outcome, BYU's offensive line should be in good hands with either Aulai or Sorensen. TBS will closely watch the battle at the center position this fall.

The Two-Deep

The ranks of the Cougar offensive line are full of capable backups. Ray Feinga, 6-foot-5, 334 pounds heads the list of reserve talent. 6-foot-8, 303-pound David Oswald played with the ones all spring and is right there with Feinga on the depth chart.

The looser of the Aulai-Sorensen battle will certainly be another back-up who could step in without a drop in performance. Jeff Rhea, 6-foot-3, 292 pounds, and Erik Freeman, 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, rounds out the group talented and experienced second teamers. Nick Longshore, 6-foot-5, 297 pounds, has been plagued by injury since he signed with BYU, but he is healthy and will now compete for a place on the two-deep.

The offensive line will also receive a bevy of outstanding incoming freshmen, returned missionaries, and transfers. Garrett Reden, comes to BYU after signing with UNLV out of high school and serving an LDS mission. Ryan Freeman, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound brother of Erik Freeman, Braden Hansen, 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Rick Wolfley, 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, and Walter Kahaialii, 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, make up the class of incoming freshman. They all have the talent and skills to be early contributors, so look for some of them to break into the two-deep roster. Jason Speredon retruned from his mission last November, but a leg injury sidelined him for spring ball. When he gets healthy he will be another very good member of the O-line group.

Bottom Line

If this offensive line unit remains healthy, then the frontline talent should form into the best offensive line BYU has had since 1996. They are experienced and very talented. Beyond the top eight or nine lineman, there the experience takes a hit, but the physical abilities remains high.

The offense begins and ends with the line, which leads to a promising outlook for 2006 Cougar offense.


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