Provo • As the black high-top cleats he insists on wearing at practices might suggest, BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber has been around college football a long, long time. Thirty-five years, to be exact, if you count his two years as a small-college honorable mention All-America guard at Cal Lutheran.
Weber coached the great Logan Mankins at Fresno State before the New England Patriots made the offensive lineman a first-round NFL draft pick in 2005. He coached UCLA's Kris Farris in 1998 when he won the Outland Trophy, given annually to the best interior lineman in college football.
Current Cougar left tackle Matt Reynolds "is probably in the top two or three best players I've ever coached," Weber said. "He's right there with Mankins and Farris. I better say he's right there in the top three."
So why is the Timpview High product and son of BYU tight ends coach Lance Reynolds still in college? Shouldn't this guy already be in the NFL?
Reynolds a candidate for the Outland Trophy (given to college football's best lineman) and Lombardi Award (given to the best lineman or linebacker) almost left after last season, his junior year, but decided to return for a variety of reasons.
"There were a lot of different factors. A lot of it was personal, between me and my wife. We just felt like this is where we needed to be, and this was the best route for us as a family," he said. "And obviously I wanted to get better."
By all accounts, that has happened, and the season hasn't even started yet.
Reynolds has dropped nearly 30 pounds due to an intensive offseason conditioning program, replacing body fat with muscle and becoming more of a lean, mean, blocking machine, Weber said. He's now 6-foot-6 and 306 pounds, and looks every bit like a prototypical NFL left tackle.
"I feel like I had the best offseason that I have had since I have been here at BYU," Reynolds said. "I feel great. I feel like I have achieved a lot already. It is the best I have felt this far into camp, ever. So I feel really good about it."
Whatever happens this season, Reynolds should still go in the first couple of rounds of the 2012 NFL draft, and that's likely what would have happened if he turned pro last January, he believes. If he has a great year, scouts and draft experts say he could go in the first round.
"I think it was the right decision [to return to BYU]. I always have," Reynolds said. "The ways that I have improved these last couple of weeks have been huge. Going up against guys like Kyle Van Noy, Ziggy [Ansah], Eathyn [Manumaleuna] has been helpful. Obviously, they have tested me and shown me where my weaknesses are. I have learned some new things. I have been trying some new things. I have been exposed in some areas and have been working on that. Having that is a huge advantage."
Weber said that despite all the preseason accolades, Reynolds hasn't let the hype go to his head.
"He wants to be coached hard. Sometimes, it is hard with guys like that. But with him, it is not hard at all. He wants to get better, and that's what makes it fun for us as coaches, is he wants to get better. He's very receptive to coaching."
Reynolds said he's being challenged in practice like perhaps never before. Van Noy and Ansah give the Cougars a pair of strong, athletic pass-rushers who have found their way to the quarterback plenty of times already in camp.
"I have been working on having more of an aggressive pass set," Reynolds said. "If you make a mistake on an aggressive pass set, it tends to have a much quicker result. If you make a mistake, the pass-rusher is on the quarterback a lot faster. There's been a couple times where that has happened. But I am continuing to improve on that. That for my pass-blocking game will be huge and has been huge. Once I get squared away and get to the point where Kyle and Ziggy and Eathyn aren't making those plays off that hard set, it will be a huge advantage for me."
What we know • The Cougars resume two-a-days at preseason camp with workouts Monday at 10:15 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Who's been hot • Marcus Mathews, a hybrid-type receiver, has looked good at preseason camp when he's been healthy. Free safety Mike Hague and tight end Austin Holt have also made big pushes for playing time.
What to watch for • Having watched film of Saturday's scrimmage, Bronco Mendenhall and his position coaches will begin to fine-tune the depth chart this week, potentially deciding starters at tight end, cornerback, free safety and left guard.
BYU offensive tackle Matt Reynolds' preseason accolades:
• On the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award
• Named a preseason All-American by ESPN.com, Athlon, Lindy's, Sporting News and Phil Steele, among others
• Ranked as the 24th best college football player in the country by Rivals.com
• Made numerous freshman and sophomore All-America teams; was a two-time all-conference selection