It’s hard to find a position group on the team that’s more experienced and more talented than this year’s offensive line. Considering how integral the offensive line is to an offensive unit’s overall success, that’s a very good thing.
“Our offensive line is awesome,” said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. “Coach Weber has done an amazing job with them, and when you’re strong up front like we are, then boy, you can do a lot of things and look really good doing it.”
Senior Matt Reynolds (6-6, 308) headlines this group, manning the left tackle position.
Reynolds is looking as fit and trim as he has since first entering the football program, which should aid him greatly in his bid to finish out his eligibility on a high note. Quarterback Jake Heaps shouldn’t be on the receiving end of a lot of blindside hits due to Reynolds’ strength as a left tackle.
Opposite Reynolds at right tackle will be junior Braden Brown (6-6, 300), who has risen to become one of the best offensive linemen on the team after being switched over from tight end. He was the lone returning starter healthy enough to participate in the spring, and showed very consistent throughout the session.
Junior Braden Hansen (6-6, 310) will be the presumed starter at the left guard position. Hansen, like Reynolds and Brown, has plenty of experience. He has started since his freshman season, and is generally regarded as one of the nastiest of the offensive linemen.
The nastiest of them all may be senior Terence Brown (6-3, 330). Terence will be starting, but which position he’ll start at is the biggest question mark regarding the offensive line this fall.
One of the options for what to do with Terence is to keep him at the center position, which he manned all of last season, and start junior Walter Kahaiali’i (6-3, 334) at right guard. Kahaiali’i was hurt throughout last season, but has shown to be one of the more talented linemen on the team during practice sessions.
How Kahaiali’i look coming off of shoulder surgery will largely dictate whether or not he starts at right guard. We’ll be keeping a close eye on him and where he’s playing throughout the coming month of practices.
The second option involves moving Terence back to the guard position that he manned as a sophomore and start freshman Houston Reynolds (6-2, 308) at center. Houston had a great spring practice session where he saw almost every single rep with the first-team offense.
With that spring experience, Houston looks to be in prime position to retain that starting center spot for the 2011 season. Another option with him is to have him man the guard position while keeping Terence at center.
It’s hard to argue that anyone on the team had a more productive spring practice session than true freshman Ryker Mathews (6-6, 285).
Although Mathews saw all of his reps at tackle, Coach Weber has shown the propensity to move tackles to the guard position. He did it with Hansen back when he was a freshman, and could be doing it again with Mathews, who could very well be one of the top five offensive linemen on the team.
Plenty of depth
During media day, Coach Doman said that they had recently upped the scholarship count for offensive linemen from 12 to 15 spots. Seeing the depth that has been accumulated at the position, it’s hard to say that reserving more linemen scholarships hasn’t paid off.
“It makes us deeper, and more talented,” said Doman. “We all recognized how important it was to be deep at offensive line, and you’re starting to see the result of us upping that scholarship count now. I think it’s going to pay of huge for us this year and going forward.”
Weber strongly indicated during spring practices that he’ll be looking to rotate his players during the course of the game much more than he has in the past. With Matt Reynolds, Kahaiali’i, Terence Brown, and Hansen missing all of spring practice, that goal is well in motion.
Those that subbed in as starters during the spring fared very well, but more importantly, they were able to accumulate a lot of practice time. Along with the three players already mentioned as options above, there’s a lot of others that look to be vying for a spot on the two-deep roster.
Senior Marco Thorson (6-3, 327) is the most experienced of the existing lot and has valuable experience at the guard position. He should be a lock to break the two-deep roster and to log some good playing time throughout the season.
Sophomore Manaaki Vaitai (6-3, 300) is coming off a very good spring in which he played almost exclusively with the first-team offense, and that will give him a leg up in breaking the two-deep roster.
Junior Ryan Freeman (6-2, 272) is yet another player that brings some very good experience to the table. He’ll make a strong bid to break the two-deep roster as well.
Other options include freshmen Brock Stringham (6-5, 280), who has shown to have a load of potential ...
... Famika Anae (6-6, 260), who looks to recover from some devastating leg injuries, and Solomone Kafu (6-2, 309), who is fresh off of his mission and will switch over from the defensive line.
More options include freshman Quinn Lawlor (6-4, 274), freshman Manu Mulitalo (6-2, 330), junior Austin Nielsen (6-0, 253), promising redshirt freshman Blair Tushaus (6-2, 275), and freshman Michael Yeck (6-8, 265).
“We want to be the nastiest, hardest working, most dominating offensive line in the country,” said Matt Reynolds. “We have a lot of guys back, and we’ve done well, but we can get better, and it’s up to us. I love our guys, and I think we have a hard working group, and a group that can reach our main goal of becoming the best offensive line in the country. If not the best, then we’ll certainly be the hardest working.”