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BYU football: Help is on the way for banged-up offensive line

Ryker Mathews, a freshman offensive lineman, watches during a play as BYU football practices Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.
Ryker Mathews, a freshman offensive lineman, watches during a play as BYU football practices Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Because of a dearth of healthy offensive linemen, BYU was limited in what it could get done during recently completed spring football practices.

"The thing we couldn't work on as much as we wanted to or were able to was the run game," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "That's because of the lack of offensive linemen."

Although Mendenhall acknowledged that it was "a huge concern" during the spring, help is on the way.

"If you look at who's supposed to be back for the fall, there are eight other players coming back," the coach said. "Most of those have more experience or at a higher caliber than those that practiced all spring."

Projected starters on the line are left tackle Ryker Mathews, right tackle Braden Brown, center Houston Reynolds, left guard Famika Anae and right guard Braden Hansen. Hansen and Brown are returning starters.

Among other O-linemen that impressed the coaches during the spring included Brock Stringham, Manaaki Vaitai and Michael Yeck.

Both Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said this spring that there will be an emphasis on the offensive linemen slimming down and being in better physical shape.

"I think what that will do will allow us to push for tempo more and not wait for them to recover and will allow our program to work more efficiency," Mendenhall said.

CAHOON'S PASS-CATCHERS: Receivers coach Ben Cahoon is optimistic about the potential of two of his young wideouts, Mitch Mathews and Brett Thompson, who are both recently returned missionaries.

Mathews was sidelined for most of spring drills with an injury.

"The first couple of days he showed some great promise. He's still getting his legs back underneath him," Cahoon said of the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder. "But he's a long dude. He's even longer than Cody Hoffman — a little more margin for error on the deep ball than with Cody. I got excited from what I saw with Mitch. He needs to master the offense and get healthy and work on his speed. But he has a chance to be really good."

Of Thompson, Cahoon said, "He's still really struggling to get his legs back underneath him from his mission. He's got a little something in his routes that's nice, maybe better than anybody. A little burst into his breaks. I like how he turns guys' hips, but he just can't do it at the speed that he's used to right now. As he works himself back into shape, he's got enough savvy with his routes that he'll be able to get himself open."

DEPTH ISSUES: The high volume of injuries suffered by Cougar players in the spring taught quarterback Riley Nelson a valuable lesson.

"That everybody's one play away. Seriously, we need depth," he said. "We're sitting out there and it's nice to sit back and put your hands behind your head and say, 'We're going to have him back in the fall and we're going to have him back in the fall.' But just like they got hurt in the spring, they can go down in the fall. We can't throw our hands up and lose the season. We've got to keep fighting and that means the next guy in line has got to be ready."