Fall camp preview: offensive line

BYU football players will report to the team this Friday, and on Saturday they'll hit the practice field for the start of fall camp. Offensively, there will be a lot of work to accomplish as Coach Anae puts the final pieces of his offense in place in preparation for the season opener against Virginia in Charlottesville.

There are two big questions that linger offensively, and those issues will need to be resolved fairly quickly in fall camp. One major question will be how effectively and efficiently the players can execute the new fast-paced offense.

BYU fans should expect "we're getting better but we still have a lot of work to do" to be a constant theme heard from the offensive coaches. But there has to be an acceptable level of execution that meshes with the offense's talents and attributes in order to make the vision work well.

The second major question mark will be how dominant the offensive players can be. If the offensive line's talent and execution aren't improved upon, then the offense will continue to struggle. It will be interesting to see how the added speed of the offense will either help or hinder the players.

So, the number one focus of fall camp has to be the development and advancements of the offensive line. If the offensive line can't execute at an increased level, it could spell another long year of frustration for those in Cougardom.

Offensive linemen

Left tackle

As a highly touted player and former Army All-American Bowl participant, Ryler Mathews is coming off bilateral hip surgery heading into his sophomore year. The 6-foot-6-inch, 295-pound Mathews was projected to be the starting left tackle following spring camp and should maintain that hold barring injury. Because of past injuries, including an Achilles heel injury in addition to his hip, it's hard to say if Mathews will match his potential this season. However, BYU's offensive line is better with him than without him, and a full year of healthy play will go a long way in helping Mathews reach his potential.

What to look for

Mathews will go into fall camp as the projected first-team starter. Seeing how well he moves and sustains a high level of strength and endurance following surgery will be key. Mathews needs to be ready to protect the blind side of quarterback Taysom Hill at full speed. If he can't, then 6-foot-7-inch, 285-pound freshman Brad Wilcox – who redshirted last year – will be called upon.

Left guard

After fall camp last year, Solomone Kafu and Famika Anae were my two picks for the starting guard positions. After some shakeup during the season, Kafu entered the picture at left guard, where he fared well. He's one of the strongest linemen on the team and is a bulldozer in the run-blocking game.

What to look for

At 6 feet 2 inches and 305 pounds, Kafu moves well for his size but needs to sustain a high level of execution from start to finish. During spring camp Kafu always started off strong, but that level often dropped as the play count mounted. Kafu will also have to become a better pass protector in order to be a more complete guard.

Center

Terrance Alletto saw action in four games last year after returning home from serving a two-year LDS mission. During this past spring camp he battled with senior Manaaki Vaitai – who replaced starting right guard Brock Stringham last season – for the center position. Alletto was named the projected starter heading into the summer.

What to look for

During his time at Ponderosa High School in Colorado, Alletto was ranked the No. 8 center in the nation. He now has a year under his belt and will go into fall camp as the starter. One thing to look for this fall is whether Alletto used the summer well in adding size and strength to his 6-foot-3-inch frame. There were reports that Alletto was playing during spring camp a little on the lighter side, which didn't bode well since the center position struggled with an undersized Blair Tushaus last year. Another thing to watch for will be the continued battle for the starting center position. Among the potential starters are Vaitai and possibly true freshman Brayden Kearsely, who told by Anae during his recruitment that he would compete at the center position. Alletto will also have to beat out incoming junior college center Edward Fusi if he wants to be named the starter.

Right guard

The enigma of BYU's offensive line, 6-foot-3-inch, 285-pound Kyle Johnson is a man on a mission. After playing on the scout team as a walk-on freshman in 2012, Johnson surpassed 6-foot-6-inch, 290-pound scholarship athlete Brock Stringham as the starting right guard during spring camp. Stringham struggled at left guard during the 2012 season and was replaced by Vaitai, who has now been moved to center. So, Johnson has essentially beaten out two scholarship athletes for a starting position as a walk-on.

What to look for

Can Johnson's level of effort and determination, which earned him the starting spot in spring camp, be enough to hold off Stringham and the infusion of incoming junior college talent? This is a question that will be asked of just about every starter on the offensive line, but especially at the right guard position. If the highly rated Kearsley doesn't beat out Alletto at center, could he be among those that compete at left guard? This will be something to watch for as well. However, junior college transfers Tim Duran and Josh Carter will both be given a shot at either of the two guard positions, so Johnson will have to fight hard if he wants to continue being the starter.

Right tackle

Michael Yeck was the backup to Braden Brown during the 2012 season. Heading into his junior year, the 6-foot-8-inch, 288-pound Yeck finally won the starting right tackle spot during spring camp. Yeck is a player that Coach Tujague spoke highly about as one who continued to impress him as spring camp wore on.

What to look for

Yeck gave everything he had in spring camp and was rewarded for his efforts. He continued to improve as camp wore on, but there are still areas he can improve, much like with the others on the line. Yeck will have to increase his endurance in order to sustain a high level of execution. Much like Kafu, Yeck's technique and stamina often sloped downward with the increase of repetitions. Yeck beat out walk-on Cole Jones for the starting right tackle position, but the question of who will challenge Yeck's starting spot in fall camp will need to be answered. Jones could do that, but more likely the challenge will come from 6-foot-7-inch, 305-pound junior college transfer De'ondre Wesley. Wesley is big and physical and gets a good push in the run game. It will be interesting to see if he or any of the other incoming junior college players can match the level of pace and execution that the current starters have been able to achieve thus far.

Tujague: The difference maker

Following a casual conversation with Coach Anae after BYU's spring game, Coach Anae pointed to Coach Tujague and said, "That's the difference maker right there." He was adamant in his assertion and even smiled – which is something those in the media don't often see from BYU's offensive coordinator – when talking about Coach Tujague. Considering that this upcoming season hinges upon the offensive line, Anae is right. And what is Coach Tujague's vision for the offensive line? He wants it to resemble a runaway train barreling down a tunnel with two massive Halogen lights blazing to the sound of roaring train horn. However, as of right now it's not there yet; the train is just now entering the tunnel.

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