July 17, 2017
BYU offensive line coach Mike Empey’s worst fears came true.
Between spring ball and fall camp last year, Empey — in his first season coaching college ball since a five-year stint that ended in 2004 — was concerned about the depth of his offensive line.
“I was uncertain about if we would have some of the players or not, for a variety of reasons,” Empey said. “In June I had a nightmare that we wouldn’t have any guys, then when fall camp started my nightmare came true. We had a couple of injuries that really caused us to have to scramble.”
Fast forward to this year and Empey has much more confidence in the guys in the trenches. He has four starters back, including All-American candidate Tejan Koroma at center, and a promising group of younger players to fill out the two-deep.
The program’s all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Williams, is a rookie for the Green Bay Packers, as is quarterback Taysom Hill. More responsibility in the BYU run game will fall on the broad shoulders of the offensive line.
“This year we’ve got quality guys,” Empey said. “All of them don’t have experience but they are talented, big, strong guys. I’m not afraid of whether or not a guy can step in and help us. Now I’m more concerned with how I can maybe get ten guys who are really prepared to play. We’re deep enough now that we can look at the second team and don’t have a massive drop-off between one and two. It’s more of an experience differential than a talent differential.”
Empey said tackle Ului Lapuaho, who has made 23 starts in his career, will not be on the roster this fall as he attempts to recover from a leg injury. But Empey affirmed that he’s comfortable with the 17 offensive linemen scheduled to participate in fall camp.
“I’d like to have around 30 but Kalani (Sitake) won’t give me 30 scholarships,” he said with a laugh. “But he’s really beefed up my numbers. He made a real commitment to our resources for the offensive line. I’m in a good place numbers-wise and I’m just excited talent-wise to develop the guys I have.”
The intense strength and conditioning program of Nu’u Tafisi has produced a good crop of athletes who redshirted in 2016, which will add to the depth of the line.
“What happens when you talk about gains in the weight room, the biggest gains are at the beginning of whatever you change,” Empey said. “With a freshman or a returned missionary coming in, the biggest gains happen in the first six to eight months. After that you’re looking for steady gains and improvement. Chandon Herring, Austin Chambers and Keiffer Longson, that crew that redshirted, they are just chomping at the bit. That’s what’s so fun to watch.”
The next crop of offensive linemen include some high-profile transfers, including former Notre Dame standout Tristen Hoge and Empey’s son, James, who just returned from his LDS mission. James Empey originally committed to Utah but decided to join his father at BYU.
The process of getting a raw offensive lineman ready for the field is in place and proven.
“James knows me and he knows how I coach,” the elder Empey said. “So that part he’ll be familiar with. We’re running a very similar type of offense from what he did in high school. I expect a full year of development for him including redshirting. He’s not going to be ready to be on the football field for a few weeks. I’m expecting he’s going to be developing all year and we’ll assess him in spring. He’s got a lot of things shocking him right now just getting back into real life.”