With four of the five offensive line starters from last year having moved on, effectively replacing those four will be one of the more important tasks the team has as a whole. The good news is that there is a good depth of talent to choose from as position coach Mark Weber works to field his best offensive front for the coming season.
Left Looking Good
The good news is that the most critical position on the offensive line is in very good hands. Matt Reynolds (6-6, 320 So.) started all of last season as a freshman and will be locking down the position that protects Max Hall's blindside in 2009.
Reynolds is the most serious of all the Reynolds brothers and arguably the most talented of the extremely talented lot. By starting as a freshman he only started to show the tremendous upside he has, which should make most Cougar fans giddy regarding his overall prospects.
Reynolds fared extremely well as a first-year starter last season, allowing almost no sacks throughout the season. He is sure to improve upon that feat this season and will lead what hopes to be a consistent and productive offensive front. With the left tackle position being locked down, it gives the offensive front a good peg to start on as it works solidify the other positions.
The other position that looks to be in good and experienced hands as fall practices get set to start is the center position. While R.J. Willing (6-5, 310 Sr.) has never started at center ,he's seen quality game-experience at almost every position on the offensive line.
Willing has done it all since first entering the program, but looks to go out anchoring the offensive front from the center position. Willing has the know-how and talent to provide good and consistent play at the center position. Having an experienced and skilled center is certainly a huge boost to the overall productivity of the offensive front.
Close at Right
Another position that looks to be relatively locked down is the position of right guard. Terence Brown (6-3, 351 So.) saw just about every rep at right guard with the ones this past spring and did not disappoint. Brown left on his mission with good promise, having broken the two-deep roster as a true freshman. Now as a returned missionary, he looks to be a sure bet to start at right guard throughout the season.
Brown's weight would lead many to believe that he's slow on his feet, but quite the opposite is the case with him. Brown has shown to have amazingly light feet and overall quickness for a player of his size, which should prove a huge benefit for himself personally and for the entire offensive front this season.
Battle at Left
As far as the left guard position goes, Jason Speredon (6-5, 305 Jr.) looks to be the guy that the others will have to beat out for the starting position. The highly touted prospect from Granger High School has patiently awaited his turn while battling injuries and adjusting to his new guard position after playing tackle for most of his career. Speredon solidified his prospects to become the Cougars' starting left guard this past spring after seeing most of the starting reps with the ones at his position.
Nipping at Speredon's heels will be Jesse Taufi (6-4, 302 Jr.). Taufi has played very well during practices at both the left guard and right tackle positions.
The junior college transfer from Long Beach is Ray Feinga-like in his physical makeup, in that he uses his long arms to gain a ready advantage over the opposition. Taufi got his share of reps with the ones this past spring and could very well find himself starting this coming season.
One of the more intriguing returned missionaries that could very well be contributing this season is Ryan Freeman (6-4, 275 So.). Freeman broke the two-deep roster as a true freshman in 2006 and saw action in seven games that year. Now that he's back from his mission, having come home in May, he could certainly be making an instant impact this season.
This past spring Coach Weber was fully aware of and excited about Freeman's prospects, even though Weber had yet to have coached him, let alone even meet him. Indeed, Weber has been well-versed on just how good of a prospect Freeman is.
Another promising prospect is Marco "Moose" Thorson (6-3, 307 Fr.), who is coming off a very productive spring following his mission. Thorson will add quality depth this coming season, which is essential for any offensive line unit.
Intrigue at Right Tackle
A good battle looks to be brewing for the right tackle position. The player to beat out is Nick Alletto (6-6, 318 Jr.).
Alletto is a lot like Speredon in that he's quietly gone about his business while awaiting his turn to play. The former Colorado prep phenom had his spring practice cut a bit short due to injury, but should be fully healthy and ready to compete for the starting spot.
Braden Hansen (6-6, 286 Fr.) meanwhile took very good advantage of Alletto's absence during the final stretch of spring, showcasing his tremendous upside. Hansen returned from his mission in Fui Vakapuna-like shape and even commented that he felt better athletically following his mission than he did prior to it.
Both Alletto and Hansen are very capable and it will be interesting to note throughout fall if Alletto can hold off Hansen and his high ceiling. Alletto has a high ceiling as well, and both will certainly be pushing one another this fall practice session and subsequently helping each other improve.
Stetson Tenney (6-5, 295 Fr.) is a player that has looked solid in practice and will be adding quality depth to either tackle position.
Joining the ranks of the Cougar offensive line will be a horde of promising incoming true freshmen. Houston Reynolds (6-3, 295), Fono Vakalahi (6-4, 320), Ryan Mulitalo (6-4, 290), Tui Crichton (6-4, 290) and Terry Alletto (6-4, 280) will all be coming in with great prospects.
The caveat here is that at least one of the true freshmen mentioned above could be used to shore up the thin nose tackle position this coming season. Players mentioned most prominently as candidates to make the switch to nose tackle are Houston Reynolds and Ryan Mulitalo.
What I'll be Watching
The impending battles at both the right tackle and left guard positions will be my focus throughout fall practice. There is good and ready talent to start at each respective position, which should make for some very good competition.
The incoming talent also holds a lot of intrigue. I can't remember a year that had this impressive a slate of incoming freshmen at the offensive line position. The coaching staff has really recruited well at the offensive line position the past few years, and it will certainly be worth noting what impact any of the incoming true freshmen make on the offensive line this fall practice session and throughout the year.
Overall the offensive front looks to be in good hands. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall noted during media days in Las Vegas that replacing the offensive line was one of his chief concerns entering this past spring, but added that he's now optimistic regarding how able Coach Weber and his troops will be in replacing four starters from a year ago.
What this reporter observed throughout spring was a solid and consistent output of the offensive front by both the ones and the twos. I've seen offensive line units that weren't up to task in the past, and believe me when I tell you that the whole offense is rendered all but obsolete when the offensive line isn't up to snuff.
These players are up to snuff and will only work to improve this fall with the help of a very exciting incoming freshman class. We'll be noting any and every development along the offensive front this coming fall practice session.