BYU football: Most position battles have been won, except at offensive line
By Jay Drew
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Aug 18 2013 04:30PM
Provo • Before almost every BYU football practice this month, a couple of offensive linemen have walked into new offensive line coach Garett Tujague’s office to find out who would run with the first team that day.
"It is that unsettled," Tujague said, when asked Friday if he’s ready to name a "starting five" along the offensive line. "Not even close [to naming starters]. We don’t want anybody feeling comfortable."
Even the only returning full-time starter, sophomore Ryker Mathews, has not been told he will start on Aug. 31 against Virginia, although it would be a shocker if he doesn’t, despite double hip surgery in the offseason.
Friday, the first teamers in the 11-on-11 scrimmages viewed by the media were Mathews at left tackle, junior Solomone Kafu at left guard, sophomore Terrance Alletto at center, junior Brock Stringham at right guard and junior Michael Yeck at right tackle.
Second-stringers were Cole Jones (LT), Quinn Lawlor (LG), Brayden Kearsley (C), Kyle Johnson (RG) and De’Ondre Wesley (RT). Senior Manaaki Vaitai has played some center and some guard at camp on both the first and second teams, but was not with either unit Friday.
Perhaps the closest battle for a starting job is at right tackle, where the 6-foot-8 Yeck is trying to hold off the hard-charging Wesley, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound transfer from Diablo Valley (Calif.) Community College.
"That’s very accurate," Tujague said. "De’Ondre has flipped the switch, and is starting to play like the kid we saw on film, that we recruited. He is starting to play the game faster, and that’s huge."
Kearsley, the highly recruited freshman from Aloha, Ore., is also pushing Alletto at center, and Tujague has said he’s not against rotating centers if he has to in order to keep fresh bodies on the field.
Kearsley "is fearless," Tujague said. "You tell him to do something, and it is done. He is not worried about hurting anybody’s feelings. And he is good enough to back it up.
"He’s a puppy, and he’s got to learn some hard knocks, and stuff like that," Tujague said. "But I just love his attitude and aggression and the way he attacks the game. He physically understands the game of football — leverage and all that stuff. So you incorporate that with a fearless mentality, and you’ve got a [potential starter]."
Other position battles on offense
The depth chart on offense is set almost everywhere else, at least for first-team spots.
Receivers coach Guy Holliday said Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley, Ross Apo, Mitch Mathews and J.D. Falslev will all play a lot, so whichever names are at the top of the depth chart at receiver when one is released a week from today is not all that important.
"Right now, the way I feel, is ‘pick your poison,’" Holliday said. "I feel really confident with where we are right now."
The best battle for a starting spot on the defense is at the inside linebacker position referred to as the "buck linebacker" in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-4 defense.
"Great battle," Mendenhall said Friday. "Tyler Beck and Manoa [Pikula] are almost dead even."
The starting "mike linebacker" will be Oregon State transfer Uani Unga, while senior stars Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley will handle the outside linebacker spots.
However, Hadley might play inside a few plays in order to get junior Alani Fua on the field at outside linebacker.