BYU football: reviving the tight end

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Ari Davis
Moroni Laulu-Pututau makes a spectacular one-handed catch against Mississippi on Oct. 14, 2016.Laulu-Pututau had 277 yards with two touchdowns last season and will return this season. (Ari Davis)

Tight ends have played a major role in BYU’s offense and provided some iconic moments in BYU football history: Clay Brown in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, Beck to Harline at Utah in 2006, Max Hall to Andrew George in overtime against the Utes in 2009.

BYU received five straight first-team all-conference tight end awards from 2005 to 2009, and Chad Lewis, Dennis Pitta and Todd Christensen all saw NFL success.

This year, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer plans to re-establish the tight end tradition.

“That’s the hope, that we’re able to get those guys involved a little more and have them become a big part of the passing game and what we’re doing throwing it, as well as their responsibilities in the run game,” Detmer said.

Tanner Balderree, Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Hunter Marshall all return with starting experience. Freshman Matt Bushman, who had a strong performance in the spring game earlier this year, looks poised to join the talent.

The three returning tight ends were among the top receivers on the team last season. Laulu-Pututau had 277 yards with two touchdowns, Balderree had 156 yards with two touchdowns, and Marshall had 66 yards with one touchdown.

With the offense losing four wide receivers while moving back to a pass-first spread offense, these tried and tested tight ends will look to give junior quarterback Tanner Mangum solid passing options.

During the team’s media day in June, Detmer said he plans to use the different skill sets each tight end brings.

Ari Davis
Tight end Tanner Balderree runs after catching the ball against Toledo on Sept. 30, 2016. Balderee is one of three returning tight ends who played last year. (Ari Davis)

“That group will be a big part of what we do,” Detmer said. “All those guys will play. It’s important to have rotations and different guys for different sets. It’ll be by committee to make sure those guys are fresh and ready for when we need them most.”

Helping lead the charge will be Laulu-Pututau, who was listed as a wide receiver while basically playing as a tight end last year.

“(Moroni) made the move. It was his idea last year,” said tight ends coach Steve Clark. “Before the season, he wanted to make the move. We didn’t feel like we could sacrifice him playing receiver to come in and do it. It was really his idea.”

Clark said during the offseason, Laulu-Pututau worked on learning the blocking schemes.

“(Tight end is) a unique position because you’re half wide receiver and you’re half offensive lineman,” Clark said. “So you (need to) know both.”

In the grand scheme of things, using tight ends gives an offense an edge on the field.

“Teams aren’t using the tight end like they used to,” he said. “We feel like when you have one, it’s the biggest mismatch in football. That’s why we want to do it.”

Wide receivers

Last season, the offense averaged more yards per game rushing than passing for only the second time since 2000.

Despite losing the team’s top three receivers in Nick Kurtz, Colby Pearson and Mitchell Juergens, who accounted for over 50 percent of last year’s receiving yards, this group is positioning itself to have a breakout year under Mangum.

Senior Jonah Trinnaman is the top returning receiver. He played in 13 games and had 28 receptions for 321 yards and one touchdown in 2016. His lone score came on the opening play of the Toledo game, where he caught a 75-yard pass from Taysom Hill.

He’ll be joined by sophomore Aleva Hifo, who caught 11 passes for 58 yards in 13 games last year.

Two freshmen, Chayce Bolli and Tariq Buchanan, will look to impress during fall camp.

As a senior at Boerne Champion High School in Texas, Bolli had 73 receptions for 1,314 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Also from Texas, Buchanan totaled over 1,500 receiving yards and had 440 kick return yards during his time at Elgin High School.

“These aren’t household names yet, but they will be,” Detmer said after the first day of fall camp. “We’re excited about the athleticism they bring to the table.”

Nine of the 14 players listed at wide receiver are sophomores or freshmen, showing the depth the team will have at the position for the next few years.

The only other senior to join Trinnaman is Grant Jones, who played as a linebacker on the team for the past two seasons. He saw limited playing time last year due to a midseason injury.

With Mangum back at the helm under Detmer, both the tight ends and wide receivers will be targeted more often and have a chance to re-establish the passing tradition that has become synonymous with BYU football.

 

Tight ends:

  • Moroni Laulu-Pututau, junior, 6-4, 230
  • Tanner Balderree, senior, 6-3, 235
  • Matt Bushman, freshman, 6-5, 230
  • Hunter Marshall, senior, 6-3, 242
  • Nate Sampson, junior, 6-2, 240
  • Troy Hinds, junior, 6-5, 245
  • Joe Tukuafu, freshman, 6-4, 235
  • Bentley Hanshaw, freshman, 6-6, 220
  • Nate Heaps, freshman, 6-4, 235

Wide receivers:

  • Jonah Trinnaman, senior, 6-0, 190
  • Akile Davis, redshirt sophomore, 6-2, 200
  • Talon Shumway, redshirt sophomore, 6-3, 215
  • Micah Simon, redshirt sophomore, 6-1, 190
  • Aleva Hifo, sophomore, 5-10, 188
  • Inoke Lotulelei, sophomore, 5-9, 195
  • Grant Jones, redshirt senior, 6-6, 215 (LB last year)
  • Rickey Shumway, sophomore, 6-2, 215
  • Beau Tanner, junior, 6-0, 190
  • Taggart Krueger, junior, 6-3, 200
  • Mack Richards, redshirt freshman, 6-1, 200
  • Neil Pau’u, freshman, 6-4, 205
  • Tariq Buchanan, freshman, 6-1, 175
  • Chayce Bolli, freshman, 6-0, 190