BYU football: Absent its star, offensive line adjusting to new coaches, scheme – Salt Lake Tribune

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Both would miss spring camp, which started last week.

Suddenly, BYU’s offensive line, which many believed would be a strength of the team, has some holes to fill. But Empey, who previously coached at BYU for a total of eight seasons under LaVell Edwards and Gary Crowton, remains undeterred.

“For the record, I have a good group, with experienced guys,” he said. “They are tough. There is some good leadership there. I am not starting from scratch, teaching them how to play football. There are just some skills that fit our concepts that are different from what they have been doing.”

Under Tujague and former offensive coordinator Robert Anae, BYU’s offensive linemen lined up in a two-point stance.

“Now I am asking them to put their hand on the ground — more pro-style,” said Empey, a former Cougar offensive lineman. “So, learning how to pass-block out of that stance, versus being up in a two-point stance, is a new skill they are learning.”

Empey said juniors Tuni Kanuch and Ului Lapuaho and senior Brad Wilcox have stepped into leadership roles in the absence of Koroma and Johnson. Senior Parker Dawe is the projected starting center in 2016 — assuming Koroma, a freshman All-American in 2014, doesn’t return — but he struggled a bit with his snapping under center Thursday, and head coach Kalani Sitake said some other guys were given a look at the position, including walk-on Quin Ficklin and sophomore Jacob Jimenez.

“I have been really happy with Tuni Kanuch,” Empey said. “I have challenged him to step up and be the guy. He is already a fun guy. He is a fun personality in that group. For anyone who knows O-line room dynamics, there is always lots of personality. I have asked him to kinda use his personality and his style of leadership to help us bring people along, and keep things positive, and keep things going.”

Kanuch, a former Bingham High star, said he’s ready to step into the leadership role.

“I am just trying to work hard,” he said. “I love my boys. I love the team. I am willing to do anything for them. Whoever they think is the leader, is the leader, the voice of the people. We are just ready to work hard and give our shirts off our backs for each other, and that’s what we do.”

Wilcox, expected to be the starting left tackle in 2016, said the offensive line will have the same swagger that Tujague installed, but with more depth this year, assuming Johnson gets back in the fall.

“We will still be one of the team’s strengths,” Wilcox said. “We are still the same line. I mean, being able to have younger guys step up and play, and only having one senior last year, had a huge effect on us, made us better. And then having almost everyone come back is only going to make us better this year.”

Wilcox said guys such as Austin Hoyt, JJ Nwigwe, Jaterrius Gulley and Brian Rawlinson are waiting for their shot as well. Empey said that high schooler Caden Haws, who signed with BYU last February out of Arkansas, is a center who will add depth to that position and could be as talented as Koroma was out of high school.

As for lining up in a three-point stance, Wilcox said that won’t be an issue.

“I mean, football is football,” he said. “We are putting in a few tweaks here and there, but it is still blocking, just like we are used to doing.”

Kanuch, the likely starter at right guard, said the offensive line has taken to Empey’s coaching style and personality quickly.

“We are tough. We are ready to ball, not in a fighting sense, but we are willing to put it all down on the line,” Kanuch said. “We want to be the hammer and not the nail. We want the attitude where people are afraid to go against us. We want D-linemen to be watching film and say, like, ‘dang, these dudes are coming off the ball and they can move people.’ That’s what we want.”

Twitter: @drewjay