Offensive lineman Clark Barrington practices during spring ball on March 4. Barrington is one of several BYU linemen with game experience looking to step up in the absence of three starters from last year's team. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

BYU football looks to reload offensive line after losing three starters

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was able to work his magic last season without much pressure thanks to an offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks on 336 pass attempts in 2020.

Three members of that offensive line are now gone, however, as left tackle Brady Christensen, right tackle/guard Chandon Herring and right guard/center Tristen Hoge declared for the NFL Draft.

The Cougars now find themselves in a difficult situation during spring ball as they try to replace three NFL-caliber offensive linemen.

“Those guys were great players,” redshirt junior center James Empey said. “I think we got a lot of good guys coming up and I’m confident in the boys we have.”

Even with the losses of Christensen, Herring and Hoge, BYU still has experience on the o-line.

“The great thing is the last few years we’ve had plenty of guys step in and really prove themselves,” Empey said. “I’m confident with the guys we got right now that they can step in and fill in and we can keep it rolling.”

Redshirt junior Empey, redshirt sophomore Clark Barrington, sophomore Blake Freeland and redshirt junior Joe Tukuafu all started at least four games last year. Barrington led the group with 10 starts, while Empey and Freeland each had eight starts.

Redshirt sophomore Brayden Keim, redshirt sophomore Harris LaChance, freshman Connor Pay and junior Mo Unutoa all appeared in multiple games last season. LaChance is the more experienced of the bunch as he appeared in 11 games last season.

“If you look at the number of guys that have played and have started, I think we’re going to be fine,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “From what I saw from our three groups of o-line, I’m excited about them.”

On top of losing three NFL prospects, BYU lost the mastermind behind them, offensive line coach Eric Mateos, who accepted the same position at Baylor University.

BYU hired experienced offensive line coach Darrel Funk after Mateos’ departure. Funk has coached at the collegiate level for 33 years, including stints at Michigan, San Diego State and University of Texas San Antonio. Funk has had a knack for developing offensive linemen over the past three decades, particularly at Michigan, where he coached two-time NCAA All-Americans and three-time NFL Pro Bowler Taylor Lewan.

“I think Coach Funk is an awesome addition to our football team,” Empey said. “I’m excited to keep learning from him.”

BYU is confident that whoever takes the first snap as quarterback against Arizona in the new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sept. 4 will be in safe hands with a mix of talent, ambition and experience on the remixed o-line.

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