The offensive line is one of the most important position groups on any football team, and with our offensive line being one of the most experienced groups in the country BYU fans went into last season with high hopes for our offense. What Cougarnation saw on the field was a group that was struggling with assignments and couldn't get a push or open up holes for our non-existent running game against the better defenses that we faced. Last year's group definitely did not live up to expectations, so this group really has a lot of work to do in order to get this offense back on track.
The confusion with assignments and the blocking scheme was as evident as ever early in the season last year. Whenever a center is missing snaps, or linemen are getting flagged for false starts, there's a good chance that the guility party was unsure about their assignment. Remember the inevitable false start penalty that stalled every BYU drive just as we were approaching the blue zone early in the season? Coach Doman had implemented his new offense and the blocking scheme was too complex and was too dificult to execute. Eventually the blocking scheme was simplified last year, and hopefully the amount of mental errors will be minimized as a result.
Mental errors are also frequently caused by fatigue or even anxiety over how big or fast the defensive lineman across from you is. The big story this offseason has been on the new emphasis on conditioning and fitness, especially for the big fellas up front. Not only should this help cut down on the number of false starts that are called but this should help reduce the number of holding penalties as we should be quicker and better able to stay in front of our opponent. Expect our run game to be more effective this year as the pulling linemen are able to get out in front faster and create the hole sooner. This is very good news for Michael Alisa as he faces some very stingy run defenses in hostile environments this year. This improved fitness level should make a big difference in our NFL draft success as well, as we saw Terrence Brown's value in the eyes of NFL teams go from zero to player in a matter of months.
Ryker Mathews has some very big shoes to fill in a left tackle position that is saying farewell to Matt Reynolds who was one of the better offensive linemen to have played for BYU. Mathews was very highly recruited out of highschool as a 4* recruit, the 11th best offensive lineman in the country, the top recruit from the state of Utah, and among the best 150 players in the nation. He played in a run heavy offense at American Fork High School, and run blocking is considered one of his strengths. Coach Doman had glowing remarks of Ryker's play as a freshman in spring camp of 2011, saying that he "showed glimpses of greatness" and that Mathews was excellent at rising to the level of competition that he faced. Mathews suffered a torn plantar plate in his foot that required surgery last fall and forced him to redshirt, also keeping him out of spring ball in 2012, which creates a lot of interest as to how he will look in fall camp in the coming weeks.
Next to Matt Reynolds on the left side last year was Houston Reynolds, but it is anticipated that Houston will be moved to center to replace Terrence Brown, and Braden Hansen will be moved back to left guard from right guard. Hansen is going into his senior year as a 4 year starter having started in all 39 games of his BYU career and is on pace to tie the BYU record of 52 career starts. He is on the watch list for both the Outland trophy and Lombardi trophy and is considered the Cougar's top NFL prospect this year.
As Cougarnation is accustomed to, we do have a Reynolds on the O-Line, and it looks like this one can be pretty darn good as well. Houston Reynolds will be replacing graduated Terrence Brown at center, and Coach Doman feels that he has a chance to be really good. As a redshirt sophomore last year Reynolds beat out Senior Marco Thorson and true freshman Ryker Mathews for the starting position at left guard, and now has a full season of experience.
The most athletic of the offensive linemen, and the second most experienced lineman of the group, is Braden Brown at right tackle. As an example of how athletic of genes run in his family, his brother Les Brown played basketball at Westminster and signed with the Miami Dolphins to play in the NFL after working out at BYU's pro-day, having never played a down of college football. Braden was moved from tight end to right tackle his freshman year, started two games at right tackle that year and has started every game at right tackle ever since. He worked out with Jordan Pendleton that offseason and put on 50 pounds of muscle, to get him up to 300 lbs. He is what Coach Doman is hoping his offensive line can become with our improved nutrition and offseason workout program. Coach Weber has said of him "He does not like to make mistakes. He goes hard. He has a very good football IQ and he loves to play the game, and you can see that in the way he plays. He is extremely athletic for an offensive lineman. He runs very well and when we pull a tackle, it's because of his talent. He's very productive. He has great feet and change of direction."
Those four positions are all solidly theirs to be had, with the one opening being at right guard. As is the case with all three returning starters and Ryker Mathews who has all but been officially named as the starter, none of these players were healthy enough to participate in team sessions at spring camp. This fall camp will be a very interesting camp for the offensive line, as Cougarnation watches to see how offseason workouts went and how each player's recovery from injury has been. This unit needs to be much better than it was last year for the Cougars to get to 10 wins again this year. In an upcoming article Cougarnation will take a look at who the favorites are at right guard and who is expected to make up the two deep as Coach Doman looks to run a more uptempo offense this year, which makes depth on the O-Line that much more important.