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BYU offensive line wish list for 2020: First, a season, then more toughness

BYU offensive coordinator really wants the leaders of BYU’s offense, the linemen, to find more toughness and if they do, the rest of the offense will follow.

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BYU center James Empey prepares to snap the ball during the Cougars’ scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019.

Gabriel Mayberry

PROVO — Pick one thing Jeff Grimes wants to see improved in BYU’s veteran, experienced offensive line and he’ll tell you without hesitation.

Toughness.

So, what does that mean? Increased desire to dominate? To impose their will on those opposite the line of scrimmage? 

More readiness to actually fight or fight back within the rules?  A refusal to be intimidated but to intimidate?

Is it a shedding of the natural character of a position group that is dominated by former missionaries and make them be more gritty and mean and compete with more emotional octane and zeal?

Be punishers instead of punishees?

Actually, he means aggression and violence.

His words, not mine.

A sports shrink says mental toughness is a critical aspect of football — and other high-level athletic endeavors.

Writes Dr. Delice Coffey in “Sports Psychology Today” on how it relates to football:  

“Firstly, it is important to know that mental toughness is a learned skill, that it is a necessity for all athletes to master and needs to be trained as frequently and seriously as you would train your body physically. This skill allows athletes to remain calm under pressure, not be affected by an opponent’s size, reputation or team, to be able to stay focused in chaos, make the right choices during strenuous situations, persevere through adversity and continue playing despite being in pain.”

Sounds like winning a fight while under control.

While at LSU as O-line coach, Grimes was considered one of the top mentors in the land at that position.

He knows the level of toughness it takes to dominate.

And he knows BYU’s linemen.

“They’re talented and they’ve shown times that they can play at a high level,” Grimes explained last week when I asked about what one step forward he expects that group to make this season.

“What they have not shown to this point is that they are going to be the toughest guys on the field all the time. From what I’ve seen the first two days that we’ve been in pads, it appears to me that they’re ready to take that step. It’s way too early for me to make a real assessment on that, but I’m pleased with the progress I’ve seen. The expectations are high for that group and they should be.

“I think for them and for our offense, they need to play with a high level of aggression and violence. If they can do that, that’ll be the biggest jump, not only for that group, but for our entire offense.”

Running back Lopini Katoa will count on that front line to keep him upright as long as possible and running downhill with confidence. I asked him to give his take on the group for which there are high expectations.

“I have so much confidence in taking the field with them and just being behind them because they’re one of the hardest if not the hardest working groups on our team,” said Katoa. “They’re super unified and they’re more aware of their weaknesses than anyone. That’s what I love about all of them, they are never satisfied and only want to get better.”

The legendary coach Lou Holtz once described the mannerisms of offensive linemen and he is correct. Perhaps their good nature makes it a challenge to be mean and tough because they’re just good guys.

Said Holtz, “They’re the kind of people who know exactly what classes they will take two semesters from now, they tend to marry at a younger age than the average player, and very rarely will you read in a newspaper about an offensive lineman stealing a motorcycle or car.”

This is a season that may not be a season because of fears over COVID-19.

And if it is canceled before it begins, there will be a need for a lot of toughness.

I get the feeling offensive linemen, in particular those at BYU, Utah and Utah State, will have plenty of it if that kind of adversity hits.

Let’s hope Grimes gets a chance to see how tough his guys are between the end zones.