With Willing having graduated, a replacement needs to be found for the most important position of the offensive line: center. That position becomes even more critical with a new cadre of lesser-experienced but talented quarterbacks under center.
"Obviously R.J. graduated so we have to find someone to fill that center spot," said Terence Brown. "It's a position that definitely is not filled right now, so you have to switch guys in and out to see what works best there. I think we have about eight or nine guys in right now, so you have to give guys breathers and it's going to be musical chairs for a while until we find guys to fill spots."
"We're kind of switching Terence Brown and Braden Hansen to the center position right now to get a feel for who might be a good prospect for the center position," said Braden Brown.
The center position presents a unique challenge for linemen, as it tests them mentally in addition to physically.
"It's a lot different than playing guard, that's for sure," said Terence Brown. "There's the mental part of it and the technique part of it that's different. I've never snapped the ball in my life, so the mental part of that is different for me, but it's a lot of fun learning a new position."
The offensive line struggled with false starts during the first day of practice, and much of that could be due to the offensive line getting used to the different cadences and the snap timing of the various centers currently being worked out. In time those issues should be resolved.
"It might be an issue to begin with, but I don't think it's much to really worry about," said Terence Brown. "I trust all of these guys and they're really knowledgeable, and that's what you want. If you can play two positions there's a good chance that you'll get on the field more, but it's also important that you learn the offense more and that comes with experience. So right now we might have some issues getting things squared away, but in the end it will only make the line stronger. I think we've got a long ways to go to improve and be our best, but I think the offensive line has the potential to be one of the strongest positions on the team."
Last year, Braden Brown was converted from tight end to tackle as a freshman and received some playing time subbing for injured tackles. He started two games last year and saw action in 12 games over the season. The 6-foot-6-inch sophomore has begun developing his physical side to meet the demands of his new calling at the tackle position.
"I feel really good, to be honest with you," said Braden Brown. "I've gained 40 pounds since last fall and that has helped me to really hold my guy down and be more stout and hold the point of attack longer. I notice my improvement has come with that and my strength has gone up a ton, and that's really helped. I feel a lot better this year than I did last season."
The tackles are currently getting some early developmental work, with players being worked out on opposite sides of the line.
"Right now it really depends on what quarterback is in," said Braden Brown. "When Riley [Nelson] is in, Matt Reynolds will switch from blind side tackle to right and I'll go to left tackle. When Jake [Heaps] is in, I'll go to right side tackle and Matt Reynolds will back to blind side tackle."
When the left-handed Nelson is in at quarterback, the left side of the line is of course no longer protecting the quarterback's blind side like they would if any of the right-handed quarterbacks were in. And while Matt Reynolds is seeing some time at right tackle in order to protect Nelson's blind side, it apparently isn't the only reason he's being moved around.
"Also, I think for him to learn how to play a little bit of right tackle will not only help him become more well-rounded as a tackle here at BYU, but also help him at the next level," said Braden Brown. "It also gives me a chance to learn and develop my skills more by becoming more comfortable with playing both sides as well. It's something that I've really enjoyed as well."
Having played the guard position last year, Braden Hansen or Terence Brown will figure back into the guard spot depending on who gets the starting center job. Also joining the guard position during spring camp is Nick Alletto, who played in 12 games last year and started 11 at right tackle.
"Right now me and Matt Reynolds are at both the tackles, and then Nick Alletto is moving to the right guard position," said Braden Brown. "The coaches are just focusing on getting him as much experience as he can at that guard position. He played the tackle spot in previous years but he's now focusing on the guard position."
Meanwhile, junior guard Jason Speredon isn't currently involved in spring practice after having suffered a shoulder injury during fall camp last year that kept him out for the entire season. However, he should be in the guard rotation by next fall.
"Jason is in non-contact mode right now, so he can't be out here hitting anybody right now," said Braden Brown. "When fall camp comes around he'll be in the guard rotation as well to help shore up that position. He's someone that has a lot of potential and is a really good player, so he'll bring that athleticism to the guard position when he gets back in."