Part 5 – Offensive Line

2011 is an opportunity for the BYU Cougars to bounce back from a rebuilding season in 2010. After a rocky start a year ago, the Cougars recovered by winning 5 of the last 6 games, went bowling and won convincingly with a very young team. While BYU failed to reload in 2010, the challenge this coming season is to see whether the growing pains of 2010 will pay dividends as the team embarks on its first season as an independent.

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 a staggering 18 full-year starters coming back in 2011, nearly double the returning experience of a year ago; 10 starters return on offense, while 8 starters return on defense, along with 10 other players who also started at least one game at some point during the 2010 season.

Offensive Line:

Led by All-MWC conference tackle Matt Reynolds, BYU returned a strong unit on the offensive line in 2010, and the same is true in 2011, when the Cougars should field a starting five comprised of all upperclassman, with only one of those players not having been a starter a year ago. Last year, the Cougar offensive line gave up 26 sacks, an increase of 3 from the year prior, but that was quite an accomplishment given the mess at quarterback, which was not really resolved until the bye week. Meanwhile, the oline headed up a fearsome running attack, with the team rushing for 2,185 yards on the season with 23 touchdowns. Players lost from that oline are Jason Speredon and Nick Alletto, who split time at right guard.

Personnel:

Four full year starters return from the 2010 line. The most notable, of course, is Matt Reynolds, a redshirt senior who started all 13 games last year at left tackle. Fortunately for BYU, Reynolds elected to return for his final year at BYU, and in 2011 is an All-American, Lombardi Award, and Outland Trophy candidate. Redshirt senior Terence Brown started all 13 games in 2010 at center. Redshirt junior Braden Hansen started all 13 games in 2010 at left guard. Also a redshirt junior, Braden Brown starter all 13 games last year at right tackle.

Other offensive lineman that return with playing experience include Ryan Freeman, Marco Thorson, Walter Kahaiali'i, Austin Neilsen, and Houston Reynolds. Redshirt junior Ryan Freeman redshirted last year, after playing in 10 games in 2009. Redshirt senior Marco Thorson saw action in 5 games last year. Redshirt junior Walter Kahaiali’i played in 8 games last year. Redshirt sophomore Austin Neilsen appeared in 3 games in 2010. Redshirt sophomore Houston Reynolds appeared in 7 games a year ago.

Offensive lineman who have been on the team but without playing time are redshirt freshmen Blair Tushaus, Michael Yeck, Manu Mulitalo, Famika Anae, and Quinn Lawlor, all who redshirted last year; Brock Stringham and Solomone Kafu, each who redshirted in 2008 prior to serving a mission; and redshirt sophomore Manaaki Vaitai who redshirted in 2010 after serving a mission.

Newcomers at offensive line include true freshman Ryker Mathews, who participated in spring camp, and incoming scholarship freshman Ului Lapuaho.

Projected Starters:

Four starters are set to go, with Matt Reynolds sure to continue anchoring the left tackle position, Braden Hansen playing left guard, and Braden Brown playing right tackle. There has been some question whether Terence Brown would continue to play center or if he would slide back to the right guard spot he occupied prior to last season. From the 2011 prospectus, it appears that the preliminary thought is to keep Brown at center for one more season, with Walter Kahaiali’i listed as the starter at right guard, along with Marco Thorson listed as an “or” starter at that spot. Perhaps they will rotate in the same fashion Speredon and Alletto did last year. Coach Weber always puts the best five on the field when it comes to the oline, and has no qualms about having them learn different positions. Should coaches elect to move Terence Brown to right guard, expect Houston Reynolds, the primary listed backup, to start at center and Blair Tushaus to back him up. As it is now, Ryker Mathews is listed as Matt Reynolds’ backup, Manaaki Vaitai as Hansen’s backup, and Famika Anae or Brock Stringham as Braden Brown’s backups.

Outlook:

The returning starters on BYU’s offensive line have collectively starter a whopping 104 games for the Cougars going into the season. Meanwhile, many of the backups have been worked into game action, particularly among Ryan Freeman, Walter Kahaiali’i, Marco Thorson, and Houston Reynolds, all who have seen significant playing time. Young players like Manaaki Vaitai, Blair Tushaus, and Ryker Mathews provide great depth even beyond those top players, with a slew of other talented players waiting in the wings. In short, BYU’s offense line will not be hurting for bodies or experience in 2011. As a result, the oline should be a reliable cog in the Cougar offensive machine. With no foreseeable quarterback controversy this year, expect a strong season from the offensive line both in run blocking and pass protection. With any luck, the year will be capped by Matt Reynolds being drafted in the first round of the NFL draft.

You can read Part 4, Special Teams here:

Part 3, Defensive Line, here:

Part 2, Linebackers, here:

And Part 1, Defensive Backs, here:

Article written by truebluecougars contributer

Gary D Millward