Cougar Offensive Line Is Hungry To Prove Itself

Aug 3, 2019, 12:26 PM | Updated: 10:26 pm

PROVO, Utah – When Kalani Sitake was hired as the head coach of the BYU Cougars in 2015, one of his first goals was to recruit and develop a strong offensive line unit.

Fast forward to 2019, and most would argue it’s the Cougars’ biggest strength heading into the season. The battle in the trenches on each snap is often overlooked, but without the protection of the offensive line, the offense falls flat.

BYU’s offensive line is hungry to prove that they can live up to some of the hype that they’re getting.

“When you’re out here, you gotta get your job done, you gotta be a little mean, and you gotta be physical,” said sophomore center James Empey. “That’s the way the sports played, and that’s the way our position is played.

Looking back at BYU’s best teams from the 80’s and 90’s, physicality in the trenches was part of the culture. Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes says it needs to be part of the Cougars’ identity in his offense.

“If we’re gonna have the type of culture and the type of identity I want to have on offense, it starts with them,” said Grimes. “If they play physical, play hard, then everything else we want to do will work.”

Rebuilding The Trenches

The offensive line has come a long way in three seasons under Sitake. To transition from Robert Anae’s go-fast-go-hard offense, to a pro-style offense, they needed to rebuild the trenches. That rebuild didn’t happen overnight, it took years of hard work.

“A lot of the physical part has happened in the offseason,” said Sitake. “Last year when we played Wisconsin, we didn’t decide to be physical that week. [Playing] physical is a mindset.”

And it’s paid off.

Before coming to BYU, Grimes spent eight years coaching offensive lines in the SEC and ACC. He says this unit stacks up with some of the best he’s ever had.

“I think we’re one of the deepest lines I’ve had,” said Grimes. “The competition there is good. It’ll be a challenge in some spots just to see who makes the plane and see what our two-deep is.”

The Cougars return four starters from last year’s offensive line, and with a lot of young talent, cracking the two-deep will be tough.

Empey Anchors The Line

One of the Cougars’ breakout stars in 2018 was Freshman All-American center James Empey.

“Every day you need to come out and compete,” Empey said. “Nobody has their job set in stone, so you have to come out every day.”

As a redshirt freshman, he started 13 games for the Cougars, leading an offensive unit that averaged 4.1 yards per carry and rushed for 27 touchdowns. As good as he was last year, he wants to continue to improve and is taking a day-by-day approach until the first game against Utah.

“We’re just trying to be the best we can be, get better every day, and prepare ourselves for our season so we can have the best win we can starting with that first game.”

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