PROVO — BYU’s new offensive line coach, Ryan Pugh, knows exactly what he wants the identity of the Cougar O-line to be.
“We’re going to be the toughest offensive line in the country,” said the 29-year-old native of Hoover, Alabama. “A lot encompasses that. Whenever the opposing team turns on our tape, we’re going to jump off the tape. We want them to say, ‘Man, we’d better bring our hard hat this week because it’s a physical bunch that executes at a high level up front, who plays the game harder and more relentless than any other team in the country. We’re going to fly around and play with energy. We take that approach every day to practice and we’re going to take that approach to the games. We play every play in practice just like it were a game.”
Pugh and first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes bring a Southeastern Conference mentality to the BYU offense, particularly up front.
While Grimes spent the past few seasons as Louisiana State’s offensive line coach, as a player, Pugh was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy — emblematic of the best center in college football — and helped Auburn claim the 2010 national championship. Pugh also spent time as a graduate assistant at LSU and Auburn before serving as the offensive line coach at UT-San Antonio the past two seasons.
The Cougars opened spring practices last Monday, and Pugh told the Deseret News that he liked what he saw early on, adding that he was looking forward to seeing his players perform Friday when they donned helmets for the first time this spring.
“I really like the energy and the effort. As an offensive line, we’ll know a lot more come Friday when we put pads on. Overall, the attention to detail, the focus and the energy it’s to a level that we’re asking them to be at,” Pugh said. “It’s a passionate group. It’s a group that has a lot of knowledge of the game. It has the ability to think on the field. They’re a group that’s tough and will compete.”
Pugh likes the depth he has on the offensive line. It includes Austin Chambers, Brady Christensen, James Empey, Chandon Herring, Tristen Hoge, Austin Hoyt, Jacob Jiminez, Harris LaChance, Ului Lapuaho, Kieffer Longson, Addison Pulsipher and Thomas Shoaf.
“We have good, quality depth. We’re going to try to find the best five offensive linemen to put on the field, regardless of position,” Pugh said. “That’s been my philosophy everywhere I’ve been prior to here. It doesn’t matter if you played left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, right tackle. We’ll put the best guys out there, and we’re going to battle for the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth spot, and we’ll go to war with that.”
When asked about candidates to replace four-year starting center Tejan Koroma, Pugh mentioned two names — Hoge, a Notre Dame transfer and the cousin of quarterback Beau Hoge, and Jimenez, who missed last season due to a knee injury.
BYU must replace the loss of two other senior starters, Keyon Norman and Tuni Kanuch.
Meanwhile, Lapuaho started for BYU in 2014 and 2015 and played in only two games in 2016, and he missed all of the 2017 campaign, due to injury.
Pugh said he’s also excited for the incoming freshman and returned missionaries that will join the program this summer and bolster the program’s depth at the offensive line.
“Right now,” Pugh said, “we’ll evaluate and develop what we have on campus.”
As far as what type of O-line he’ll put on the field this fall, Pugh has a clear goal.
“Our identity,” he said, “is that we’ll be the toughest offensive line in the country.”