PROVO — It's the largest position group on most football teams, while certainly not the fastest or quickest, but through two practices sessions, new BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey is finding it hard to keep up with his players.
Having played offensive line at BYU, along with having coached the position in various capacities, Empey wasn't particularly used to what he found from his group during the team's first spring practice session.
“It’s funny. We had our first practice and they were always running away from me,” Empey said. “I’d try to talk to them and I’d turn around and they were running — everyone’s running somewhere and I don’t know if they even know what they’re running to. They’re just always running.”
No doubt that constant motion was ingrained into the offensive linemen by former offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who preached a go-fast-go-hard system over the last three seasons.
While Anae's offensive system generally saw success, new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer is working to change things up a bit.
“We want to keep the go hard part, but we want to slow down a little bit,” Empey said.
The new offense involves traditional huddles and a pace that is more traditional than the break-neck pace Anae ingrained within his offense since 2013.
But for Empey, retooling that pace certainly has its benefits as he much prefers slowing his linemen down rather than yelling at them to get it in gear.
“That part of it has been really fun for me,” Empey said. “It’s a little comical because I know the personalities, but it’s been fun for me because the biggest challenge you usually have with the offensive line and big guys is you’re always trying to get them to hustle. These guys hustle. They hustle everywhere.”
A big reason Empey wants his players to slow down is so he can instruct them on certain techniques he plans to employ. Learning those new techniques is the first priority this spring as the offensive line acclimates to a new system.
“Now I’m asking them to put a hand on the ground — more pro-style — and learning how to pass-block and kick-step out of that stance versus a two-point stance is a new skill,” Empey explained. “In a couple of weeks it should be a non-issue for them.”
Through two practices the team hasn't donned pads, although the work of the offensive line sometimes resembles full contact.
“Watching us practice today you wouldn’t know we didn’t have pads on," Empey said. "They’re a competitive group, they’re ready to go. They want to hit and they want to do those things, but there’s just certain things we can’t evaluate before it’s time, in pads.”
As for the current evaluation of each player, Empey is currently almost entirely focused on how those players grasp the new techniques and then progress moving forward.
“I feel we’ve given them some concepts that we’ve asked them to learn and some techniques that fit those concepts,” Empey said. “We kind of told them that when we get in those team (drill) situations that we’re more concerned with their technique and not as concerned with how the play ends up.”
Overall Empey is happy with his collective group, although he's without veterans such as Kyle Johnson (injury) and Tejan Koroma (withdrawn from school), currently.
“I don’t have a lot of depth right now, but I have depth of experience,” Empey said. “Guys who have played different positions, and I think we’ll be all right.”
When asked which players he's looking at as potential leaders, Empey listed both Tuni Kanuch and Lui Lapuaho as a couple of guys he's depending on to take the lead. Overall he feels the offensive line can develop into a productive unit for the 2016 season.
“I got a good group with experienced guys,” Empey said. “They’re tough and there’s some good leadership there. I’m not starting from scratch teaching them how to play football. There’s just some skills that fit our concepts that are different than the way they’ve been doing it.”