Cougar Linemen Setting the Bar

The Mountain West Conference champion BYU Cougars are preparing themselves for the Ducks of Oregon in indoor practice facility this week. The team is not adding new plays to the offense or preparing to shut down the Duck's high powered offense, however. In fact, there has been hardly a ball in sight all week.

BYU's goal for this week of practice is simple: get healthy and stay conditioned. Players line up in their position groups and are put to the test in various conditioning and agility drills.

"Out here, it not really the off-season, but we are training like it is," said freshman defensive tackle Matangi Tonga. "We go Monday, Wednesday and Friday where we lift and run.

"We go D-line and O-line in one group and then you have the offensive skill guys in one group. Then you have the defensive skill players in one group and then the core [linebackers] in one group. I'm not sure who the fourth group is, but everyone is divided into groups."

"It is fun for us to come out there and show what we can do," chuckled BYU offensive lineman Jake Kuresa. "We go out to practices and they tape us up and brace both our knees to were you can't really move and stretch out and do things like run, so it's good to come out here and get your feet under you and remember what you can do when you're not all braced up."

With blue agility bags evenly spaced apart, the D-line and O-line group high stepped around and between them as fast as they can. Because these players work in such close quarters during the game, they do not get the chance to show just how quick and agile they really are. During the drill, one of the biggest offensive lines in the country showed surprising foot speed and agility. The display even turned heads among their defensive counterparts.

"I'm really impressed with the way this O-line group is moving," said Tonga. "Their footwork is there, their speed is there, and their competitiveness is there."

"I think the biggest thing is, people don't recognize that you can be an offensive lineman and you can play and be successful at the college level by being the stereotype," Kuresa said. "You can be big and strong and kind of slow, but now a days, with these colleges recruiting the kinds of defensive ends and defensive tackles that have quick feet, you have to be quick. You know me, Dallas [Reynolds], Sete [Aulai] and the rest of us guys didn't come here with slow feet. We got recruited for that reason, and now a days there are so many guys that are 300 pounds and 6-4 that want to come to BYU. Now what you do is, you take the guys with the fastest feet who are the most coordinated, and those are the guys the coaches focus on and narrow down for recruiting."

When watching the 6-foot-5, 328-pound Reynolds is quickly high stepping behind the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Travis Bright and 6-foot-4, 330-pound Kuresa, it would be easy to mistake the group for linebackers were it not for their gargantuan size. These guys are that nimble and quick footed.

"I think the linemen are setting the bar," said Tonga. "These guys look like fullbacks, running back and receivers out there. I've just been amazed at the footwork of some of these guys. Watching guys like Dallas, Jan [Jorgensen], Russell [Tialavea], Sete, Jake, and Travis, man, I'm really surprised by their footwork and how quick those guys are. It's really surprising to watch how fast those guys move for how big they are. You can tell these guys play a lot of basketball because their agility is there.

"If you were to ask me I would say I'm a basketball player," said Kuresa with a laugh. "It just didn't work out for me.

"Our offensive line has a really good work ethic and we're well coached. I think because we are talented and quick and we have that going for us that when we do put our effort into it and try to prepare for a game, we look good. I'm not going to lie, and I think there aren't too many offensive lines out there if any that can come out here and do quickness drills and hang with us.

"Everyone recognizes that we are one of the biggest O-lines in the country, but I don't think many recognize or are aware of the fact that many of our guys on the offensive line can move really good as well."

BYU fullback Manase Tonga mentioned to the team that much of their success this year hinged on the efforts of the offensive line in opening holes for the running backs and in giving quarterback John Beck enough time to pick apart defenses.

"Like Manase said, it's not a coincidence that we're having a good year," Kuresa said. "It's not a coincidence that we're undefeated in the Mountain West Conference and playing well. I think we have talented guys that are coached very well, and have developed a good work ethic."

The work ethic has been consistent all year under the direction of head coach Bronco Mendenhall, so it is no wonder even the big boys can bring it in speed and agility drills.

"It's an everyday thing and it shows in drills, it shows in practice and I think that one thing that Mendenhall brings is consistency," said Kuresa. "It's not like come Saturdays you now have game speed and become fast. That's not going to cut it any more. It has to be that way everyday, and people have to practice like it is Saturday everyday."

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