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BYU offensive line has new coach, attitude

Also, FSU coach unhappy with his team’s scrimmage

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PROVO — Amid the searing heat of mid-August and two-a-days, BYU left tackle Aaron McCubbins recalls his winter of discontent.

It came in the wake of the Cougars' three consecutive losses to close out 1999, spoiling an 8-1 start. "I was honestly disgusted after those last few games," said the junior from Kenai, Alaska. "I didn't feel like we as an offensive line played up to our abilities. It's frustrating to lose that way. We didn't do what we were supposed to. We knew most of the problems on offense were with us."

The BYU O-line's inability to run-block and protect the quarterback was readily apparent in the 21-3 Motor City Bowl defeat by Marshall.

During the off-season, coach LaVell Edwards hired one of his former players, Mike Empey, to coach the tackles, leaving coach Roger French to focus on the guards. McCubbins says the change has helped.

"Coach Empey's great," said the 6-foot-4, 285-pound McCubbins. "He has played the position. He played recently. He knows the all the secrets that helped him out. It's great for us as tackles."

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the attitude.

"We have good athletes, guys who aren't afraid to go out and bang," McCubbins said. "That's what we want to do different from last year. We seemed more passive last year and this year we want to be aggressive."

Aside from quarterback, perhaps the most competitive battles for starting positions on the 2000 BYU team can be found on the offensive line, where the Cougars are long on depth and short on experience. McCubbins and right tackle Ford Poston are the only returning starters, but even they are fighting to keep their starting jobs.

Sophomore Dustin Rykert is pushing McCubbins while sophomore Ben Archibald is challenging Poston. Senior Kam Valgardson, junior Teag Whiting, sophomore Isaac Herring and sophomore Brandon McFerren are vying for playing time at the guard spots.

"(Coach French) told us all the positions are wide open," McCubbins said. "It serves as motivation. If we don't play up to expectations, we will be replaced. There are no sure bets now."

MEANWHILE, BACK IN TALLAHASSEE . . . : BYU's first opponent, Florida State, held its first scrimmage of the season on Saturday. Seminole coach Bobby Bowden didn't necessarily like what he saw from his defense.

Senior quarterback Chris Weinke threw three touchdown passes, including one on the opening play — a 75-yarder to wide receiver Marvin Minnis.

"It's the first time I can remember where the offense took the ball and moved it down the field in the first half of a scrimmage," Bowden said. "That scares you. I haven't seen that in 15 years. The first unit just went up and down the field."

Two defensive players projected to start against the Cougars in the Aug. 26 Pigskin Classic, cornerback Tay Cody and defensive end David Warren, were held out of the scrimmage due to injury.

VAL'S VIEW: BYU athletic director Val Hale has read the articles and the preseason predictions that say the Cougars, who face a tough schedule and have inexperienced quarterbacks, are in for a long year. Hale begs to differ.

"We're going to be a lot better than people think," he said. "We're already labeled as roadkill. That won't happen. This team has worked hard. We will be very competitive. I fully expect us to be 2-2 in our first four non-conference games (versus Florida State, Virginia, Mississippi State and Syracuse). I wouldn't be surprised if we win three of those games . . . I get frustrated listening to the doom and gloom. We've got a legitimate chance to win every game. The variable is injuries. We're not very deep. But we have a talented group of guys."

S.I.'S VIEW: Sports Illustrated must know something BYU's coaching staff does not. In its 2000 college football preview, the national magazine refers to Bret Engemann as the Cougars' starting quarterback. Officially, BYU coaches haven't yet named a starter between Engemann and Charlie Peterson. Maybe S.I. is taking a cue from Engemann's brother-in-law, talk show host and USA Today columnist Larry King, who has mentioned that Engemann will be BYU's starter a few times in his column.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com