BYU Football: Previewing the offensive line

HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 16: The BYU Cougars take the field before the game against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on October 16, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

BYU Football lost three offensive linemen to the NFL this offseason, yet there may not be reason to be very concerned.

Prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, the last time that BYU Football had an offensive lineman taken in the NFL Draft was Scott Young back in 2005. Brady Christensen changed that in the third round when the Carolina Panthers picked him up this last draft.

On top of that, Chandon Herring and Tristan Hoge also signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. The three players now in the NFL sets a BYU Football record of offensive linemen entering the league in season.

Seeing this would make one assume that perhaps the offensive line will be depleted, inexperienced, and down this year. But that may not be completely true.

I’m not going to pretend that the offensive line will be as good this year as last. Losing three players to the NFL from the same position group will have an impact and it will show itself this year. It would be reasonable to believe that there will be more sacks, QB hurries and that the rush yards/attempt will go down some. However, not being as good does not mean that they will play poorly.

This team returns a lot of production from last year. Yes, the three best linemen are gone, but as the season moves further and further into the rearview mirror, we often forget that BYU was playing their backups quite often for a majority of the second half while their opponents kept their first team out for at least the third quarter and often times deep into the fourth quarter.

Those reps are going to pay dividends this year as the Cougars try to fill in (or open up) the gaps left by Christensen, Hoge and Herring.

Returning Production

The biggest name coming back next year is James Empey who started eight games for BYU last year before dealing with injuries. Empey has been a big part of the offensive line since 2018 and has seen playing time in 34 games. Setting up tone up the middle, Empey will have to stay healthy and strong to help this offensive line reach its potential.

Harris LaChance and Clark Berrington will finish out the left side of the line while Connor Pay and Blake Freeland will likely start on the right side. Barrington was a starter for the last part of the year last season and Harris LaChance and Blake Freeland saw the field in all 11 games last season while Connor Pay got limited reps in all of the blowout games.

Behind the likely starting five, Joe Tukuafu and Keanu Saleapaga who also bring experience and reps as backups. That gives BYU seven offensive linemen who have seen significant playing time and should be able to do a good job protecting the quarterback and opening up lanes for the running backs.

Biggest Concerns

It would have been really good to have Eric Mateos back again this year to continue to build up this offensive line, but with him gone, the O-line will have to adjust some to Darrell Funk and what he wants the line to do. Luckily, with Aaron Roderick and Fesi Sitake taking over the offensive playcalling, we shouldn’t see too many drastic changes. However, again any change is going to take some time and there will be growing pains.

The other area of concern is depth. Again, I believe the first seven on the depth chart for the offensive line will do just fine, but if two or three players get hurt, this unit could be in for some serious struggles.