Part 5 - Offensive Line
The 2011 season turned out to be quite a roller coaster, as Jake Heaps entered the season as an entrenched starter, but struggled more and more as the year wore on. Enter Riley Nelson, and the Cougars managed a ten-win but turbulent season behind the once again split leadership. Now Heaps has transferred, and Nelson finally gets his chance as a senior to have the team all to himself, as the Cougars embark on their second year as an independent. The coming season features a more challenging schedule, particularly on the road, so the Cougs have their work cut out for them.
When considering players who would have started all season but were injured along the way and players who started at least six games, BYU has 13 full-year starters coming back in 2012. There are 6 returning starters on offense, while 7 starters return on defense, along with 8 other players who also started at least one game at some point during the 2011 season. There are also 2 return missionaries back who were multi-year starters prior to leaving. Offensive Line:
Finishing his career with a memorable block in the Armed Forces Bowl, tackle Matt Reynolds will not be on the field for the Cougars for the first time in four years. Gone also is starting center Terence Brown. Both players were four year starters who played significant roles during their time at BYU, and both ended up signing with NFL teams as free agents after a disappointing draft day. The common sentiment among Cougar fans seem to be that the offensive line, very experienced last year, underperformed. The numbers do not bear that characterization out completely, as the Cougars had 2,084 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns, about the same yardage as the very rush heavy season prior to 2011. More notably, the oline reduced the number of sacks given up by 9 total sacks, allowing 17 sacks on the year. Some of that was no doubt due to the elusiveness of Riley Nelson after he took over as the starter, but the improvement is stark nonetheless, good for 24th best in sacks given up nationally.Personnel:
Three full year starters return from the 2011 oline. Three year starter Braden Hansen is back in 2012 for his senior season and fourth as a key component for BYU. Braden Brown, a redshirt senior, returns after starting every game a year ago, completing any transition period from tight end to offensive line. Redshirt junior Houston Reynolds, who started 10 games in 2011 while missing a few due to injury, is also back.
Other offensive lineman that return with playing experience include Walter Kahaiali'i, Brock Stringham, Blair Tushaus, Famika Anae, Michael Yeck, Ryan Freeman, Solomone Kafu, Manaaki Vaitai, and Fono Vakalahi. Kahaiali'i is a true senior and veteran player, who played in all 13 games last year. Stringham will be a redshirt sophomore after playing in 8 games last year. Tushaus is also a redshirt sophomore who played in 5 games in 2011. Anae, a true sophomore, appeared in 4 games in 2011. Yeck also appeared in four games and is entering his redshirt sophomore season. Redshirt junior Freeman did not play last year due to injury coming off a redshirt season, but had significant minutes as a freshman and sophomore prior to his redshirt. Kafu will be a redshirt sophomore, having played in 2 games a year ago. Redshirt Junior Vaitai played in 1 game last year. True sophomore Vakalahi is back from a mission after playing as a freshman in 2009.
Offensive lineman who have been on the team but without playing time are redshirt freshmen Ryker Mathews, who redshirted last year; freshmen Terrance Alletto and Terrance Motley, each who redshirted in 2009 prior to serving a mission; and redshirt sophomore Quinn Lawlor, who was on the scout team last year after redshirting. Also due back for 2012 are Tui Crichton and Ryan Mulitalo, although neither appear on the roster yet.
Newcomers at offensive line include scholarship true freshman Corbin Kaufusi and true freshmen walk ons Kyle Johnson and Mason Payne.Projected Starters:
Three spots appear to be set, with Braden Hansen at left guard and Braden Brown at right tackle, each set to reprise their roles at that spot from a year ago. Houston Reynolds is also likely to start somewhere. He is listed on the spring prospectus as being the starter at center. The other two roles up for grabs, then, would be left tackle and right guard. Listed in spring at left tackle is highly touted Ryker Mathews, who likely would have been the sixth offensive lineman last year but for injury. Brock Stringham is listed as the starter at right guard. The backup at left tackle is Walter Kahaiali'i; at left guard Famika Anae; at center Blair Tushaus; at right guard Manaaki Vaitai; and at right tackle Michael Yeck.Outlook:
Once again, BYU returns an offensive line with a significant amount of experience, although less than a year ago. The Bradens, Hansen and Brown, each are multiple year starters and proven commodities, while Reynolds joined the starting rotation a year ago. Mathews and Stringham are a bit more enigmatic, but to be placed in starting spots ahead of players who have a lot of time in the program and significant time on the field probably signals that they are capable. The bigger issue is how well the offensive line can put things together, considering how decimated the unit was during spring ball. There were very few players who didn't miss time due to injury or illness, and many who missed spring ball altogether. The importance of an offensive line working together cannot be overstated, so the challenge in fall camp is a significant one. The pieces are in place, and the Cougars have a lot of talented offensive lineman. The question is whether they can put it together prior to the fourth or fifth game of the season.
You can read Part 4, Special Teams, here: http://www.cougarboard.com/board/message.html?id=8730648
Part 3, Defensive Line, here: http://www.cougarboard.com/board/message.html?id=8724450
Part 2, Linebackers, here: http://www.cougarboard.com/board/message.html?id=8719026
And Part 1, Defensive Backs, here: http://www.cougarboard.com/board/message.html?id=8714262