Provo • Maybe Darrell Funk had the wrong approach all along.
As he spent the last two seasons trying to mold Connor Pay into a center, then a guard and then a tackle, maybe the right idea wasn’t to find a single home for him on the offensive line. Maybe embracing the shapeshifting mentality was the better route from the start.
BYU’s offensive line coach is all-in on the idea now.
“Versatility is huge,” Funk said. “Not every single guy cross-trains [at multiple positions] but when he does there is a reason for it. When you get down to depth, it can help.”
Pay is an apt case study for the offensive line this season. With eight players with starting experience, and only five starting positions, the way to maximize the depth may be for guys to play multiple positions. That way there can be multiple lineups and nearly everyone plays.
There are extreme cases like Pay, who can go up and down the offensive line playing all five spots. And then there are other guys like Joe Tukuafu, who can transition from center to tackle.
“We have me and Joe playing [center],” Pay said, speaking to the versatility of the group. “Then we vary through a few different guys in the second group snapping the ball.”
By Funks’ estimation, there are at least four players cross training to maximize their snaps. Harris LeChance has been playing at two spots and freshman Kingsley Suamataia has been altering sides of the ball.
The challenge for Funk is finding a way to use all of the talent in the group. BYU is returning four of five starters. And then there is LeChance, who started three games last year. Campbell Barrington, who started six games and played in eight. And, of course, there is five-star Oregon transfer Suamataia — BYU’s highest rated recruit in years.
“There are 10 guys that could play,” Tukuafu said. “I trust the best five will start. But I believe 10, if not more, could start.”
Head coach Kalani Sitake said he wants there to be a set five guys who finish out games. He compares it to an NCAA Tournament basketball game, where programs know who is going to be on the floor down the stretch to breed stability.
But other than that, Sitake has left it up to Funk to decide how he wants to mix and match players through the course of the day.
“I think we will have some good opportunities to rotate some guys,” Sitake said. “We have [a lot of players] who have started games, but only five spots.”
As spring practice finishes, there is an added urgency to finalize a starting rotation. Tukuafu talked about the offensive line working as a unit. Knowing who the unit is, and the rotation, will help out going into the summer.
And Funk mirrored that concern. But he doubts it will happen. Because as he evaluates the deepest group he has seen, it is going to take time to push the right buttons to maximize it.
“Ideally you would like to come out of spring with a pretty good beat on your starting lineup,” Funk said. “But we are so deep that it’s not going to happen. We will have more guys able to start than able to hold onto a starting position.
“You know some guys look at the rotation and think I’m just throwing guys out there. But there is more to it. We will be better for the versatility.”
• As BYU goes into the fourth week of spring practice, the staff will start finalizing a travel roster. Right now there are over 100 players on the spring roster.
• Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick expected to have a backup quarterback close to finalized at this point in camp. They admitted the competition has not materialized yet.
“I thought we would have more of an idea by now,” Sitake said. “... We are in no rush.”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.