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Provo • Junior quarterback Taysom Hill has game experience and is a polished athlete, but not yet a tremendous passer. Primary running back Jamaal Williams is on track to become the most prolific rusher in school history and has several capable backups. The receivers are tall, experienced and talented and seem to have that element missing at LaVell Edwards Stadium the past few years: speed.
This BYU offense is setting up to be one of the best in school history if its offensive line can protect Hill and manhandle defenses in the red zone, perhaps its most glaring deficiency in 2013.
That's a mighty big if.
"I mean, it does put a little chip on our shoulders, to come out here and be better this year," says projected starting left tackle DeOndre Wesley. "And we are better, so [getting questioned about being a weak link] doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother my teammates."
Actually, Wesley and projected starting left guard Kyle Johnson argue that the offensive line got a bad rap last year. BYU's offense was 10th in the nation in rushing yards, 14th in total offense and 17th in first-down offense. Not many teams with a first-year line coach and a first-year (second stint) offensive coordinator run the ball for 3,475 yards (267.3 per game) and produce two 1,000-yard rushers, they said. Perhaps they forget that in the games against the four best teams on the schedule Utah, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Washington, all losses they combined to score just 59 points, sputtering in the red zone countless times. They ran for 183 yards against Utah, 163 against Wisconsin, 247 against Notre Dame and 180 against Washington.
Offensive line coach Garett Tujague said training camp this month has been about protecting the quarterback at all costs, while trying to maintain the running presence they established last year.
"I am not satisfied, but I have definitely been pleased with the progress that we have been making as a position group," he said.
Since spring, and even before that, Tujague has talked about getting his linemen to be meaner and nastier and forget they play for a church school.
"So, when you play for BYU, you come off the field, that's where you hold the door for the young lady. You call your mom and tell her you love her, or you give her a kiss. But when you go across those lines, you are fighting for what you believe in," Tujague said.
The former College of the Canyons head coach said BYU's defense has had that nasty, physical edge to it for the past few years, "and our mentality as an offense now has reached that point."
Certainly, the Cougars won't be inexperienced along the line, like they were last year. Of the 11 players who started at least one game on the offensive line last year, 10 are back. They've been joined by promising freshman Tejan Koroma (who is making a legitimate push to be the starting center), defender-turned-blocker Tuni Kanuch and returned missionary Ului Lapuaho.
Kanuch and senior Michael Yeck, the only OL who started every game last year, are injured and won't play in Friday's scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium (6 p.m., open to the public).
It is telling, though, that when coach Bronco Mendenhall is reminded that 10 offensive linemen return with experience, he downplays its significance.
"Yeah, I think if they said we had 10 that had to start, that's probably a better way to frame it. … Which is good and bad. I don't intend to have 10 that have to start this year," he said.
Tuesday, 15 offensive linemen participated in practice, and Mendenhall said all 15 are capable of earning starting spots. He said after Saturday's scrimmage that coaches are "not zeroed in, but zeroing in" on the 10 guys who will make the trip to UConn and the five who will start.
Along with Johnson (left guard) and Wesley (left tackle), who seem the most logical players to get starts, the other good bets to make the travel squad are centers Terrance Alletto and Edward Fusi, right guards Brayden Kearsley and Brock Stringham, and right tackle Ului Lapuaho.
"Are you kidding me?" Tujague said, when asked if he has a starting five yet. "The depth chart is changing every day. That's the greatest thing in the world, to have competition. Guys that have been two-year starters might not even make the plane to go to UConn. That's unfortunate for them, but it is exciting for me as the offensive line coach, because there is good competition."
BYU's offensive line
Position Player Year
Left Tackle DeOndre Wesley Senior
Left Guard Kyle Johnson Sophomore
Center Terrance Alletto Junior
Right Guard Brock Stringham Senior
Right Tackle Ului Lapuaho Freshman
*Tribune projections; coaches have not named starters yet