Jaren Hall, BYU football fortunes depend on gigantic O-line play

Keep Jaren Hall healthy.

That must be BYU’s football fall camp mantra as head coach Kalani Sitake opened practice last week.

The Cougars have a perfect schedule to make noise this year with Notre Dame, Arkansas, Oregon and Big 12 champion Baylor on the schedule, but the Cougars should be wary of the USF opener, the game against Boise State, a rematch with Utah State and even former WAC and MWC rival Wyoming if what anonymous coaches told Athlon is true BYU tends to play at the level of its competitors.

The thing is, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick has a tremendous opportunity to field an experienced, confident, and well-oiled offense this fall. Hopefully the defense can complete things by getting the ball back into the hands of Hall and his buddies.

But a key factor for all of these designs is having Hall healthy as he stands today.

After day one of practice last Thursday, Hall was asked what really stood out with the day one offense.

He didn’t hesitate, stutter or have to guess.

“The O line. How clean the pocket is, how well we ran the ball today even though we don’t have pads, but they’re moving guys. It’s no secret, you know that’s the strength of our team, as always, but it looked really good up front.

When the Cougars open against USF, it will be the first time Hall has played a game since leaving Los Angeles with a 35-31 win over USC in his back pocket. He didn’t play in the bowl game against UAB, and that’s a shame. He probably could have played, but he had played while nursing a foot injury.

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Hall is lucky this season. He has a garage full of bulldozers in front of him. There’s every reason to expect preseason winners such as tackle Blake Freeland and Clark Barrington to be the anchors of a pocket-cleaning business that includes a mammoth group of blockers who average 6ft 7in and around 310lbs top to bottom in both depths.

They are not only big, but strong, agile, experienced and reliable.

People will tell you that the most important characteristic of any successful football team is a strong offensive line. This is where it all begins and ends. If you struggle in this area, your chances decrease.

It would be disappointing if Hall’s O line didn’t rise this season and keep his jersey clean and his body straight.

It will be disappointing if only three O linemen from this group are drafted over the next two years.

You have the eldest Joe Tukuafu, a first cousin of the Kaufusi clan, who comes in at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds. He can play guard or center and, if he had to, come out to tackle.

You have second-year center Connor Pay at 6-foot-5, 312 pounds, who can play guard and is extremely physical.

Campbell Barrington is 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, and tackle Harris LaChance is 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds with very little body fat on his frame.

Brayden Keim is one of the 6-foot-8 guys who weighs over 300 pounds, and those are just a few bodies in the room that O line coach Darrell Funk can draw from.

Add in junior blocking types Masen Wake (6-foot-1, 250 pounds) and senior Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli (5-foot-11, 250 pounds), and Hall will have additional protective tools at his disposal.

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Wake and Heimuli bring a ton of experience and diversity to how Roderick can deploy them, and Hall is the beneficiary of that, as are Cal transfer running back Chris Brooks and fellow running backs Lopini Katoa and Jackson. McChesney.

This offensive line has potential.

He is capable of playing Big 12 football and was central to helping Tyler Allgeier post the best running season in school history a year ago.

It was the O line that went 5-0 against the Pac-12, but now they are older and wiser.

It’s an offensive line that can get defenses to respect the run near the goal line, which opens up play-calling choices with BYU receivers and tight ends and passing backs.

If the run is a big threat in the red zone, the game changes drastically for a defense. Ask Allgeier’s hopeful tacklers last year.

Hall would be wise to kill these guys and keep them happy.

This may be the best lineman group since the days of Roger French to the days of the legendary LaVell Edwards.

And that says a lot.

Because if Hall can stay healthy, knock on wood, this group could produce some really great stories this fall in BYU’s final season of independence.

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