Spring Practice Preview: Offensive Line

Spring practice is set to start here soon, and with it exist a lot of bylines regarding every position group. Which position group is strong entering spring practice? Which position group is relatively weak? Who needs to be replaced and who are the best candidates to replace them? G-man starts out by previewing the work that needs to be done on the offensive line this spring.

The mission for offensive line coach Mark Weber is this: replace four of the five starters on the offensive line from a year ago. This is and certainly will not be an easy task for Weber, and his task is compounded by the fact that those four starters (Travis Bright, Dallas Reynolds, Ray Feinga and David Oswald) accounted for a combined 12 years starting experience.

Weber was able to ride the wave of their collective experience when he joined the Cougar coaching staff, and this spring he will have his work cut out for him. How well has he developed those lying in wait for their starting turn? How well will he continue their development now that those lying in wait will now be called upon to start?

Make no mistake about the fact that Coach Weber has a very difficult task ahead of him. Replacing that amount of experience isn't easy for anyone, but fortunately the staff has recruited as well for the offensive line position as they have with any position on the team since Bronco Mendenhall became head coach, which should provide plenty of good talent to adequately replace the tremendous void left by the graduation of Bright, Reynolds, Feinga and Oswald.

The Lone Returning Starter

Fortunately for Coach Weber and the entire offense, the most critical position on the offensive line (left tackle) is well accounted for thanks to returning starter Matt Reynolds. So promising was Reynolds as a redshirt freshman that Weber moved around his entire starting front, namely moving Reynolds' older brother Dallas to center, to accommodate the younger Reynolds with a starting spot at the most critical position of the offensive line.

Not only did Matt Reynolds respond, but he finished the year playing as well as any Cougar offensive lineman and was considered by many to be the best ‘big ugly' on the team. Reynolds will only work to improve this spring. With the rest of the offensive line in flux for the time being, it is a great luxury to have the dominating force of Matt Reynolds as the mainstay at left tackle.

Returning Starters of a Sort

Although both R.J. Willing and Garrett Reden have not necessarily locked down starting positions on the offensive line the last two years, their collective experience make them just short of being considered as returning starters. Both players have logged some quality game time experience and have practiced at a variety of positions, making them valuable commodities.

Versatility might be both Willing's and Reden's greatest assets. Coach Weber likes to cross-train his linemen a bit, and both players could be viable options for starting at any and every of the open four offensive line slots.

Willing is almost certainly pegged to log most of his time at center, and is as good of a bet as any to wind up as BYU's starting center for the 2009 season. Willing can and has played some quality reps at both tackle and guard, which could lead Weber to try him out at different spots.

Reden meanwhile is a well-respected member of the offensive line corps, although he's logged a bit less playing time than Willing. Reden knows what Weber demands as well as anyone and knows the calls, technique and nuances of Weber's offensive line system as well as - and probably better than - any current member of the team, which makes him both valuable and versatile.

It's not readily clear where exactly both Willing and Reden will end up playing along the offensive front, but it is clear that both players will likely be starting come the 2009 season's opening game against Oklahoma. Where they're playing will certainly be something we'll be keeping an eye on throughout the spring practice session.

Next in Line

Behind Reynolds, Willing and Reden are a bunch of well-healed offensive linemen who have logged some good practice experience over the past year or two. As mentioned, Cougar coaches have recruited very well at the offensive line position, which makes the cupboard anything but bare entering spring practice.

Terence Brown: Brown is one of the more talented offensive linemen to be recruited to the team and will more than likely be vying for the starting spot at either left guard or right guard as spring practices commence. Brown broke the two-deep roster as a true freshman before his mission, which gives indication of his potential.

Brown returned home from his mission just weeks before last year's fall practice session, and was subsequently not close to being in appropriate shape to contribute last year. He spent the year redshirting and progressively getting back to form during every week of practices. Brown should be in much better shape this spring, which should make him one of the top options to start at either of the offensive guard positions.

Jesse Taufi: Taufi is a junior college transfer who spent last season redshirting while learning Weber's system. Taufi could be described as a leaner version of Ray Feinga physically, and his long arms and good feet make him a prime candidate to start at right tackle for the 2009 season.

Taufi spent most of his time practicing at both right and left tackle last year during practices, although he did spend some time at guard. He more than often impressed and was a mainstay with the second-teamers throughout last season, which should make him as good a candidate as any to wind up starting at right tackle.

Nick Alletto: Battling Taufi for the starting right tackle position will be Nick Alletto. Alletto has quietly gone about his business and progressed well during practices at the tackle position. He is a prototypical tackle given his lean and tall physical stature, and won't likely be tried out at guard like most Cougar offensive linemen because of it.

Alletto has always been a solid practice performer and did fare well in some mop-up duty during games last season. One would suspect that both Alletto and Taufi will be tried out alternatively with the first-team offensive line throughout the spring until one emerges as the starter.

Jason Speredon: Speredon was moved inside last year to guard and will almost assuredly stay there, given the prospects of both Taufi and Alletto at the tackle positions. Speredon mirrors Alletto in a way, as he's quietly gone about his business and become a solid practice performer.

Speredon is a bit more lean than fans are used to BYU fielding at the offensive guard position. With being lean, Speredon has also shown some good feet and mobility, which could very well translate into a starting spot this coming year.

Stetson Tenney: Tenney is a solid walk-on who will add some quality depth to the offensive line. While he isn't readily mentioned as someone who will be competing for a starting spot, he'll be a valuable asset at the very least by adding overall depth to the tackle position primarily.

Braden Hansen: Hansen is fresh off his mission, enrolled in school and set to get his feet wet come spring practice. It's difficult to expect much from Hansen initially, as he hasn't been back long. He is, however, an extremely talented offensive line prospect who could very well be competing for a starting spot at tackle come fall.

Nate Hartung: Hartung has lost significant weight and is setting weight-lifting records while on the team. Like Tenney, Hartung most likely won't be competing for a starting spot initially, but will do well in adding depth to the center and guard positions.

Lawrence Pico: Pico was pretty raw a year ago, but we'll be anxious to see how he looks this season during his first spring practice session. I admittedly don't know much about him regarding how he'll perform, but we'll be watching him and his progression throughout the spring.

Conclusion

Replacing 12 combined years of starting experience at four positions isn't an easy task, and the difficulty of the task should never go underestimated by fans regardless of how highly they may think of those replacing the four starters from a year ago. Having observed all of the players that will be asked to fill the four vacant starting spots, the Cougars are in relatively good shape when given the task at hand.

To this observer, the task of replacing BYU's four departing starters on the offensive front could very well be termed as the top story this spring. Indeed, the progression and subsequent movement on the offensive line depth chart is something we'll be very keen on throughout spring practice this year.


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