John Tait, Eddie Keele, Ray Feinga, Jake Kuresa, and Sete Aulai. Those are names BYU fans associate with dominant offensive line play. BYU fans also will associate dominant offensive lines with dominant offenses. Since 2009, BYU has been searching for answers on the offensive side of the ball. Will the team be able to find those answers in 2014? The popular opinion amongst fans is that offensive success in 2014 will depend on the offensive line. For the line to improve, changes must be made. The line needs to play better, but it also must have a swagger not seen from BYU’s hogs since the graduation of Ray Feinga and Travis Bright in 2008.
Since Jeff Grimes left BYU following the 2006 season, we have seen many transformations along the offensive line. Mark Weber came from North Carolina to take the reigns of a line that had become dominant in the first two seasons of Robert Anae’s air raid offense and led the Cougars to a top 5 offense in the memorable 2006 season. Under Weber’s direction, BYU’s front never seemed to find a groove. Many seasons we saw the line underperform and many fans questioned peculiar coaching decisions, including fielding an offensive line that was extremely undersized—on purpose.
Not all of the struggles could be blamed on Weber; BYU saw some unfortunate transfers (Tayo Fubuluje), uncertainty at quarterback (Jake Heaps, Riley Nelson, Taysom Hill, James Lark), injuries (Famika Anae), and a couple of underachieving Reynolds boys (Matt and Houston). While Weber was a strong asset to the BYU coaching staff, it was not hard for fans to see him move on to Utah State following the 2012 season.
Enter Garrett Tujague as BYU’s new offensive line coach in 2013. BYU fans quickly got on board with “2J” because it is easy to like his passion and his manly jaw line. He gained my vote of confidence quickly after I heard him screaming at the offensive line that they were an embarrassment to the university and their families after a poor showing in a scrimmage during last year’s fall camp. His experience in Southern California has helped BYU win some big recruiting battles and will be helpful moving forward.
While the offense never took the form many fans hoped for in 2013, it’s hard to blame Tujague. It’s not like he walked into a situation where he was coaching a cast of All-Americans. BYU stocked the offensive line with junior college transfers prior to the season, but the additions did not have enough experience or skill to make a big difference. Because of poor line play, BYU struggled miserably in the Blue Zone and saw many promising drives end with field goals. The notable names from the 2013 line were talented freshman Brayden Kearsley, Michael Yeck, Manaaki Vaitai, and Terrance Alletto. Hard to expect much from a team which played Michael Yeck at tackle most of the year.
In my opinion, BYU has not seen an intimidating offensive lineman since Famika Anae was putting people in the hospital in 2012. Becoming a more intimidating and dominant line is something that BYU must develop moving forward. I believe that Tujague has the right fire and passion and will be able to draw it out of his players. I was encouraged to hear that De’Ondre Wesley was involved in a couple skirmishes in spring camp. BYU needs this “never back down” attitude from its leaders on the line. Wesley was defending his fellow offensive linemen in camp and his protective mindset will presumably transfer to anyone wearing the Y on game days in the fall. This kind of leadership has been lacking and could be the missing piece for an explosive “go fast, go hard” offense this season.
Aside from Wesley, the post spring practice depth chart includes Solomone Kafu, Edward Fusi, Michael Yeck, and defensive line crossover Tuni Kanuch. While Yeck (bless his heart) is currently listed as a starter, I see returned missionary Ului Lapuaho emerging at right tackle before the Cougars play UConn in August. Bronco gushed over Lapuaho on signing day this past February as the newcomer who will make the biggest impact this season. I believe Ryker Mathews, if healthy, and Brayden Kearsley, if eligible, will have big roles for this line to make a positive difference this year. The line is Wesley’s this year, but I believe Kearsley is the leader in waiting and will take over beginning in his junior year in 2015.
I believe that Wesley, Kearsley, and Lapuaho can be mentioned in the same breath as Tait, Kuresa, and Feinga in the future. It will take more than being technically sound and keeping Taysom off the ground to leave a legacy like those guys did. BYU’s line needs to be nasty and mean in the meeting room, on the practice field, and in the trenches to change the lack of production we have become all too accustomed to from the Cougars in the past few seasons.