PROVO — New BYU offensive line coach Garrett Tujague has his work cut out for him.
The first-year coach is tasked with the responsibility of improving a largely underperforming offensive line from last season while being provided few of the necessary parts during his initial practice session. Only five scholarship players are available to him this spring — only two of whom have any significant playing experience to speak of.
Throw in the loss of arguably the two best offensive linemen from a year ago coupled with a complete overhaul of the base offensive system, and Tujague will be earning every penny of his new contract this year.
Despite what's ahead of him, Tujague is excited to be back at BYU.
"There's great energy; I love being around coach Mendenhall and how he does things," he said. "I also love being around coach (Robert) Anae again."
The scholarship group consists of Manaaki Vaitai and Solomone Kafu, who both started last season along with Terrance Alletto, Brad Wilcox and Michael Yeck. Ryker Mathews, who is generally considered as the best OL currently in the program, will miss spring training due to injury, along with Brock Stringham and Jordan Black, who recently returned from his LDS mission service.
Throw in a host of walk-ons, and it’s likely that the majority of players making up the two-deep this spring won’t be reprising those roles come fall.
The reinforcements coming in fall includes four junior college transfers (Josh Carter, Tim Duran, D’Ondre Wesley and Edward Fusi) and a four-star prospect, who was widely regarded as one of the top OL recruits nationally (Brayden Kearsley.)
Tujague’s existing group of able-bodied players is well-aware of the players coming in this fall and reminded of it frequently
“Every day,” Tujague said in how often he reminds his group of fall reinforcements. “Every day the guys that aren’t here are doing secret training sessions on their own to be part of a team, but obviously to take jobs.”
Taking a starting job, let alone securing a role on the two-deep roster, isn’t typically common with first-year offensive linemen. The nature of the position involves a steep learning curve that few are able to climb during their initial seasons.
Given Tujague’s experience from the junior college ranks, where he often had just one or two years to bring his players up to speed, rather than the two extra years involved at FBS programs, may work to his advantage. Through the first week of practice sessions, he’s set forth an aggressive, high-tempo regimen that the players are responding to.
“Right now it’s all about going hard and keeping up the tempo,” Kafu said. “He’s very intense, and even though he’s hard on us, he always has our back, and it’s good. He really focuses on finishing everything we do — every drill, and I think that’s really going to help us.”
Given the urgency and tenuous nature of the current offensive line group, Tujague is receiving a lot of help from new offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
“It’s great because they’re both new coaches that know a lot about playing the position,” Kafu said. “Both of them played offensive line here and yeah, coach Anae — he’s involved a lot, and I love it. I can feel myself improving already.”
The current goal of the offensive line is to not just increase the tempo and effort but to grow cohesive as a unit.
“Coach Tujague always tells us that we can’t have the attitude to survive the workouts, but continually improve during them,” Kafu said. “He also always points out that if one of us is weak then all of us are weak. That’s the way it is on the offensive line, and I think we’re gaining a better sense of playing together and feeling the pressure to not let any of us down, and it’s good.”