BYU football’s offensive line determined to be excellent despite losses
Take a glance at the offensive line group during BYU football’s 2023 spring camp and the first thing that jumps out might be the names who aren’t there:
Blake Freeland … Harris LaChance … Clark Barrington … Campbell Barrington.
Those four guys could’ve been in Provo for another year but elected to leave, taking their 151 combined games of experience in a Cougar uniform with them.
The current BYU offensive linemen know that outsiders might choose to focus on those departures but they have to focus on being effective.
“People definitely thought it was going to be tougher when all those guys left,” Cougar sophomore lineman Kingsley Suamataia said after practice on Wednesday. “I didn’t see it that way, especially with the guys who came in. With Weylin Lapuaho, who started his whole freshman year at Utah State, and Ian Fitzgerald from Missouri State, there are a lot of guys stepping up. Having Connor Pay, Brayden Keim and me coming back, we can teach them all the offense inside and out to get on the same page. It’s been a good transition.”
Cougar offensive line coach Darrell Funk has more than 30 years of coaching experience, so he has a lot to draw on as he works on getting the 2023 unit ready.
“Every year is just a little different, but for me to be sitting here repping 13 or 14 guys a third of the way through spring ball is pretty good,” Funk said. “There are three or four guys who aren’t going to go in spring who I will have to work with to get caught up in fall.”
He said his current reminds him a little of two years ago when he came in with a few veterans and a number of young guys.
“We had some guys who had played a lot of football, like we do this year with Connor and Kingsley and Brayden,” Funk said. “And we had a lot of young guys. If everyone is being honest, replacing the guys who left two years ago was a big concern. In that way, it is similar to what we have now.”
BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said earlier in camp that he thought this year’s offensive line could be as athletic or even more athletic than the 2022 unit, and Funk said he agrees — but there is a caveat.
“We have good athletes in terms of length and ability to run and redirect, but that doesn’t always mean the guy’s a great player yet,” Funk said. “Sometimes it correlates but it’s more than just the ability just the athleticism. When they’re running and doing offseason stuff or we’re seeing them just doing sprints, it is pretty impressive. Now you got to turn that ability into football players.”
When asked when he gets a gauge about just how good a line will be, Funk explained that process starts in spring.
“You have to be able to project,” Funk said. “I’ve seen Paul (Maile) play at a high, high level. I know what he can do so that’s a pretty easy projection to say put him in because all I have to do is put on the tape. But the rest of it is a little harder and it won’t be completely done by spring.”
He wants to figure out who the top seven or eight linemen will be by the end of spring, although he would be even happier if he had 10.
“Once that happens, then you start to mold in the fall,” Funk said. “The other part is production. It has to do with the production of the units with the different matchups.”
He compared it to how there are five guys on a basketball court but sometimes a substitution can jump-start a team. He said it can be the same with an offensive line.
“You never can tell,” Funk said. “You’ve got the pieces, but some pieces just work better together. That’s how you find the continuity. Would I love to have that two weeks into fall camp and be done? Sure. Is it a little harder than that sometimes? Yeah. But I have a feeling, just projecting, that we will be pretty dang close within about a week into fall camp.”
When talking about continuity, Suamataia believes it is key for linemen to get started developing that as quickly as possible.
“It starts during a winter workouts,” the Cougar sophomore said. “The offseason grind is where we see who’s going to step up. How are guys going to respond to if we have to run 100 gassers or just deliver on stuff. Seeing how they respond is when I knew how good our line was going to be.”
He wants to see his unit stay healthy over the next few weeks of camp and continue to refine their craft.
“We need to be a brotherhood and keep together as one,” Suamataia said. “It’s easy for one person to fall off and do the wrong thing, but like they say we are only as strong as our weakest link. Keeping getting stronger together is what I’m looking for in spring camp.”