BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and offensive line coach Darrell Funk have a message for Cougars fans worried about replacing stalwarts such as Blake Freeland, Clark Barrington and Harris LaChance on BYU’s offensive line in 2023 as the team moves into the Big 12.

Knock off the unnecessary fretting, they say.

In fact, Roderick even throws out the notion that the group they have assembled for this season, and are continuing to assemble, might be even better than last year’s offensive line that ranked as one of the better ones in the independence era.

“I feel really confident that we are going to improve at O-line this year. I thought our guys played well at O-line last year. It is not that they didn’t. We ran the heck out of the ball and we didn’t give up very many sacks. The O-line was good, but we are going to be even better this year, and I feel really confident saying that.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

“That is probably the biggest improvement on our offense, is our offensive line,” Roderick told the Deseret News last month. “We are more athletic this year than we were last year. We are longer, bigger.”

As the Cougars move into Week 3 of spring camp, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding virtually the entire defense, and at receiver, a position that seems a bit too thin. But concerns over the offensive line that is also replacing 2022 contributors Joe Tukuafu and Campbell Barrington are starting to disappear.

Even without several expected key contributors who are missing camp with various injuries, the unit looks like a Power Five-type line. Of course, it is headed by the two returning starters — Kingsley Suamataia and Connor Pay — and a host of other guys with experience, either at BYU or elsewhere.

“We got a bunch of guys who are long and athletic and can run,” Funk said. “Now we have to translate that onto the field. But I have every confidence, especially with the other guys we are going to add, that we will be every bit as good as last year.”

If there was a knock on the group last year that helped the Cougars finish No. 36 in the country in total offense (426.3), it was that it didn’t quite get the job done consistently in short-yardage situations. Third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 often became nightmares for BYU.

“We know that is an area we need to improve,” said the former five-star recruit Suamataia, the Oregon transfer by way of Orem High who is moving from right tackle to left tackle this year, inheriting the spot held the past few years by the uber-athletic Freeland.

“Definitely a transition for me, especially moving positions,” Suamataia said. “But it is definitely going well.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake is also convinced, saying last week that continuity on the offensive coaching staff “is a big deal” and the upgrades in the trenches will be apparent to fans when the season starts in less than six months.

Head coach Kalani Sitake, talks with media after the BYU Cougars football team practiced in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“There are some new guys, but there are a lot of veteran guys who have played in a lot of games, too. So I feel good about the group that is there, and the talent that is there, and the way they are working,” Sitake said.

“I really feel good about our two-deep on the O-line and now it is a matter of competing and getting the young guys up to where we want them to be,” he continued. “But yeah, there is plenty of talent to definitely get the starters (solid). It is just about the next five.”

Use a Sharpie to put Suamataia at left tackle and Pay at center. After that, it gets interesting in trying to draw up a two-deep chart.

Utah transfer Paul Maile, who recently had surgery and is skipping spring camp, will probably be a starter at one of the guard positions. Snow transfer Lisala Tai could be the other starting guard, while redshirt junior Brayden Keim is in the mix at right tackle.

Then what?

Missouri State transfer Ian Fitzgerald, Utah State transfer Weylin Lapuaho, redshirt freshman Sonny Makasini (who is also missing spring camp) and redshirt freshman Peter Falaniko are also in the running to be on the travel squad, perhaps in the top seven or eight who will see playing time.

Funk also mentioned Tyler Little and redshirt freshman Trevin Ostler as guys who are having good spring camps. Returned missionaries Kaden Chidester and Jake Griffin and SUU transfer Sam Dawe will battle to make the travel squad as well.

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“There are some other additions that will come to fruition as we go into summer,” Funk said. “But I feel really confident that we can find 10, 11 travel guys and seven or eight guys that we can feel comfortable being in the game. If more, then great.”

Roderick said there is too much depth at offensive line to carve out a definitive depth chart when spring camp ends.

“My guess is that it will go into fall camp,” he said. “There are just too many good players there. I don’t think that you are going to be able to resolve your starting five in 15 practices.”

What does transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis think of his offensive line, after playing behind Power Five O-lines at USC and Pittsburgh?

“Very capable group,” he said. “I think they are a great unit. … They are blocking the right people and they are in the right spots and there aren’t any free rushers coming.”

Offensive line coach Darrell Funk watches his players as the Cougars practice in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023.
Offensive line coach Darrell Funk, watches his players as the BYU Cougars football team practices in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

While trying to replace the NFL-bound Tyler Allgeier in 2022, BYU still rushed 2,296 yards last year, which ranked the Cougars No. 49 in the country in that category. They averaged 5.24 yards per carry.

“I feel really confident that we are going to improve at O-line this year,” Roderick said. “I thought our guys played well at O-line last year. It is not that they didn’t. We ran the heck out of the ball and we didn’t give up very many sacks. The O-line was good, but we are going to be even better this year, and I feel really confident saying that.”

After six spring practices, Funk said he was mostly happy with what he’s seen to this point.

“Some guys have to pick it up, but sometimes in the early part of spring, it is always uneven,” Funk said. “Some days are pretty good, some days not so much. … We are a little shorthanded on guys that are going to be playing in the fall for us. But that is fine; these other guys are getting some experience.”

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Funk said it will be “crucial” to get Maile, who started in 16 games for the Utes, up to speed once he’s healthy.

“He has played so much good football, and he just knows how to play,” Funk said. “He will be a key factor, whether he is playing center, whether he is playing guard. He will be a big lift for us inside.”

Of course, the Cougars are still mourning the loss of offensive line teammate Sione Veikoso, who died tragically in a construction accident last December in his native Hawaii. A special decal with Veikoso’s initials and number (72) has been applied to every helmet.

“It was a touching moment,” Suamataia said of the funeral on Oahu attended by about 15 BYU players. “Him being my brother, it was definitely hard. It hurt me in my heart. But it gives me a reason to come out here and play for him, play for the ones that don’t get to play any more.”

BYU offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia, left, blocks defensive end Isaiah Bagnah as the Cougars practice in Provo, March 17, 2023.
BYU offensive lineman, Kingsley Suamataia, blocks defensive end Isaiah Bagnah, as the Cougars practice in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. The Orem High product and Oregon transfer will be moving from right tackle to left tackle. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News