Utah State's offensive line was a question mark that turned into a nightmare last year when some 18 players saw time at one of the five line positions because of an unreal set of injuries and other problems. Some starters missed most of the year with injury; some were out several different times; some started or played different positions almost weekly to meet needs.
Says new assistant head coach/offensive line coach Art Valero, who joined Utah State's program in January with the rest of the John L. Smith staff, "Every game I saw (on films), somebody was at a different position. It's hard to develop continuity; it's hard to get better when you're constantly moved around. It was tough."The line woes were a big reason for USU's 3-8 record.
But now, some of those players are healthy again, and there's lots of competition for starting spots among players who have experience and some of the new men the Smith coaching staff recruited, like junior guard Troy Kema (from Dixie JC), who's battling former starting center Rob Holmes for the strong guard spot.
"Nobody's got a job yet," stresses Valero, though some decisions will likely be made tonight or tomorrow morning since the Aggies are holding their final all-out scrimmage Wednesday afternoon instead of Saturday, as planned.
Valero has 17 offensive line prospects: "Almost too many," he says. Some, like Bountiful's Ben Holbrook, will likely be redshirted.
The line will be small but fairly mobile. Valero, in fact, recruits that way when possible - finding smaller, quicker defensive linemen who might have the capacity to gain size and then teaching them the O-line.
Mike Murphree looks like the starting center, and Valero has good things to say about this inexperienced junior. "Mentally he's very sharp, and everything starts with that position," Valero says. "He's worked his tail off" getting stronger and learning the position. "He has a great motor." Travis Guiney looks like the backup center - "He's one of the smartest I've ever worked with," Valero says.
Sophomore Brandon Dyson of Bountiful has added 25 pounds from last year and looks like the new strong tackle. At weak tackle, Valero sees redshirt freshman Ken Watts and junior Darrin Mitchell (a national all-freshman second-teamer two years ago) battling. The other weakside position is between former starters Brian Davies and Novich Hunter.
The work ethics of Davies, Hunter, Dyson and Kema, says Valero, make the whole line better.
BYU UTAH USU
QUARTERBACK A- C C
RUNNINGBACKS B+ A- B+
RECEIVERS B+ B A
OFFENSIVE LINE B C+ B-