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BYU football: Cougar offensive line appears to be in prime form heading into fall practices

BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos instructs athletes during the practice. The BYU football team held its first spring practice in the Indoor Practice Facility on BYU's campus in Provo on March 4, 2019.
BYU offensive line coach Eric Mateos instructs athletes during the practice. The BYU football team held its first spring practice in the Indoor Practice Facility on BYU's campus in Provo on March 4, 2019.
Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

PROVO — The narrative for the BYU football offense has been changing for the better since hitting close to rock bottom in 2017, with the positive preseason prognosis perhaps best exemplified by the offensive line unit.

Referred to consistently as the 'tip-of-the-spear' by BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, the returning unit appears on paper to seize that role effectively and lead an offense that showed strides throughout the 2018 season.

"One thing we see is that we have an incredible amount of depth," said junior offensive lineman Tristen Hoge. "And then we have a lot of guys coming up fast and getting ready to play, and we saw that throughout the spring and into the offseason. We feel like we're in position now to not lose much of a step at all even if someone goes down."

Hoge (6-5, 306) transferred from Notre Dame to start along the Cougars' offensive front last season and helped lead a group that had some growing pains, but ultimately proved productive in Grimes' new system. Others who became strong contributors last season include Brady Christensen (6-6, 295), who was a surprise starter at left tackle as a freshman, and sophomore center James Empey (6-4, 300.)

Other notables include junior Chandon Herring (6-7, 300), who saw plenty of playing time last season, sophomore Keanu Saleapaga (6-6, 310), who saw starting time after switching over from defensive line, and junior Kieffer Longson (6-7, 310), who came on strong toward the end of the year. A standout in spring practice was freshman Harris LaChance (6-8, 305), who looks to be the frontrunner for the open right tackle position.

And those are just the primary names with several others looking to serve notice just prior to the start of fall practice.

"Guys are really competing and it's awesome," Hoge said. "The guys in front are feeling pushed and motivated to get better by the guys coming up and we see that talent coming up and it excites us. We feel a responsibility to help those guys reach their potential and it's all around a great thing that's developing."

Those who should benefit in a big way with improved line play have noticed the group's improvements as well.

"I love what I've seen from the offensive line. No doubt," said sophomore running back Lopini Katoa. "Those guys are big and really working hard as a group to get better. We're all excited about how that group has come together."

Coming together quickly will prove pivotal during a difficult opening stretch which opens up against Utah, a program that features a top defensive line unit led by defensive ends Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu that will test the Cougar front to the extreme.

"We have to be ready right away, obviously," Hoge said. "There's no time to ease into it and we know that. We have to be ready to go from day 1 with our schedule and that's motivating us. We feel like we'll be ready, but we still have a lot of work to do to make sure we're at our best, but like I said, I love our group and I love what I'm seeing develop."