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BYU football position preview: the offensive line (+video)

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We’re going to move mass, we’re going to move earth. Whoever’s in front of us — the D-line, the linebackers — we’re set out to be the hogs, be the boss and clear that path. – BYU junior guard Tuni Kanuch

PROVO — BYU head coach Kalani Sitake likes what he's seeing from his offensive linemen, and part of that can be tied back to how players from that position group came back from summer training.

“I was really impressed with how the O-line looks,” Sitake said. "A lot of our guys got significantly bigger as far as muscle mass, and hopefully that will work out in our favor."

That kind of bulk, combined with a group of veterans with plenty of starting experience, has the Cougars confident in their offensive line heading into the first season under first-year offensive coordinator Ty Detmer.

Returning experience

The main storyline on the offensive line this offseason has revolved around junior center Tejan Koroma (6-0, 290), BYU's starter at center the past two years who missed spring camp but has returned to the team this fall and is acclimating to the Cougars’ new offensive system.

Senior Parker Dawe (6-3, 301) has manned the center position in Koroma’s absence. Sitake said the versatile Dawe, who started a game each at center and left guard last year, can play anywhere along the three interior offensive line positions.

“Tejan, we had him take some first-team reps," Sitake said after the Cougars' first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. “Parker's a guy who can do a lot of different things. He can play left guard, center and right guard. We're trying to find the best mix of O-linemen. Tejan's done some good things at center."

Junior Ului Lapuaho (6-7, 333), who started fall camp limited in action, also brings a wealth of experience. Lapuaho, the projected starter at left guard, started 10 games in 2015 at three different positions and has 18 career starts.

Junior Tuni Kanuch (6-3, 325) is back at right guard after starting seven games at the position in 2015. He’s played 24 games in his BYU career and has emerged as a vocal leader along the line.

Sophomore Austin Hoyt (6-7, 282) also returns after starting two games last year and was listed as the team’s starter at right tackle post-spring.

"We have a little more time to rest, in between plays," Hoyt said of the team's transition to a pro-style offensive scheme. "Our running demeanor, it's a lot more double-teams instead of single blocks. It's been great so far, it's a good adjustment."

There is still some uncertainty surrounding the offensive line. Two seniors who have been absent from fall camp are Brad Wilcox (6-7, 310) and Kyle Johnson (6-4, 319). Johnson, who had offseason surgery on his knee, was at BYU’s Picture Day last Tuesday; he started eight games in 2015 at left guard and has 29 career starts. Wilcox has played 39 games in his BYU career and started 12 games last year, including five at left tackle.

Other returning linemen who could see increased roles in 2016 are sophomore Jacob Jimenez (6-5, 292), sophomore JJ Nwigwe (6-5, 278), sophomore Quin Ficklin (6-3, 280) and redshirt freshman LeRoy Tanoai (6-4, 306).

Newcomers

A pair of graduate transfers from Southern Utah have joined the Cougars’ offensive line. Senior Andrew Eide (6-5, 290) was the T’Birds’ starting left tackle last year for SUU and can play guard and tackle. Junior Keyan Norman (6-3, 305) started every game last year at center for the T’Birds. Both earned All-Big Sky honorable mention honors in 2015.

“They contribute to the team already. They're not in the background,” Kanuch said about Eide and Norman. "They're up front just trying to pound that rock with us."

.@BYUfootball guard Tuni Kanuch (@kanuch78) has nice things to say about SUU transfers Andrew Eide and Keyan Norman pic.twitter.com/pTZVRJPX1U

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) August 15, 2016

There are several returned missionaries who will be freshmen this season. Thomas Shoaf (6-5, 265) joined the team in the spring; he redshirted in 2013 and was listed behind Hoyt as the backup at right tackle on the post-spring depth chart. Kieffer Longson (6-7, 295) was part of the 2015 recruiting class, when he was rated a four-star recruit by Scout. Addison Pulsipher (6-5, 268) is back from a mission as well.

Incoming true freshman Austin Chambers (6-4, 270) is also with the team this fall, while freshman Zac Dawe (6-4, 275), the younger brother of Parker Dawe, hasn't been participating in fall camp for unspecified reasons after returning from a mission.

Key losses

Ryker Mathews started 33 games in his Cougar career while playing in 45 and leaves a big hole at left tackle. Mathews was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in April; the Saints waived/injured the American Fork native in training camp after he injured his knee. Jaterrius Gulley is also gone after playing four games last year, including starting one at left guard.

Insider note

Kanuch was complimentary of the strength and conditioning program the players went though during summer training, saying this is the strongest he's ever seen the team.

"We did some crazy stuff, but I can see the difference," he said, while also mentioning it impacted the team's aggressiveness. "We're nice guys, but we're going to punch you in the mouth."

BYU’s Tuni Kanuch (@kanuch78) on impact of summer training: “We did some crazy stuff, but I can see the difference” pic.twitter.com/OeavGislhF

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) August 15, 2016

General outlook

The Cougars bring plenty of experience back along the offensive line. While there are some questions with a little under three weeks until the season opener, the coaching staff and players seem confident in their performance in the new pro-style system.

Combined with senior leadership coming back at the skill positions, the offensive line could be the lynchpin for this offense in its first year under Detmer.

“We're going to move mass, we're going to move earth,” Kanuch said. "Whoever's in front of us — the D-line, the linebackers — we're set out to be the hogs, be the boss and clear that path."

Email: bjudd@deseretdigital.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd