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2018 (Early) Position Preview – Tight Ends

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Pictured: BYU TE Matt Bushman runs past Fresno State’s defense, via heraldextra.com

As a transition piece from the run game to the pass game, an examination of the Tight End (TE) position seemed natural. Perhaps more so than any other position on the offense, an individual can be considered a valuable addition to the TE position by either having skills that assist heavily in the running game or the passing game with the best TEs, obviously, able to do both.

In the running game, a TE can be just as essential as a Full Back, and can be the difference in how successful a team runs outside or gets to the next level. In the passing game, a reliable TE target can be a nightmare for opposing defenses particularly in the middle of the field and in the “blue” zone.

There have been some incredible TE’s in BYU’s history! Among those are Super Bowl Champion former NFL coach Brian Billick, Daneil Coats, Doug Jolley, Andrew George, Chad Lewis, miracle man Jonny Harline, All-American Dennis Pitta, and two-time All-American Gordon Hudson, who finished his college career as the all-time NCAA leader in receiving yards by a TE.

Lk85BCqZPictured: Current BYU Associate Athletic Director, former BYU TE, and former Philadelphia Eagles TE Chad Lewis runs past the Atlanta Falcons defense via twitter.com

While the offensive line may have been the strength of the offense last year, the TE position was the life of the offense. Collectively (and I use that word generously,) the TE position made up for nearly a quarter of the yards gained through the air in 2017 and returns the team’s leading receiver. There is a lot of excitement for the TE position going forward and for good reason: we may yet have our next Dennis Pitta!

It has been announced that last year’s TE coach, Steve Clark, has been retained and will return for the 2018 season. It is assumed he will continue to coach the TE position until further notice. The passing game is an unknown under new Offensive Coordinator, Jeff Grimes, as his direct experience tends more towards the running game. This is perhaps why BYU brought in Aaron Roderick, a former Utah and SUU Offensive Coordinator (OC,) who also was the Quarterback (QB) and Wide Receiver (WR) position coach at Utah, as BYU’s new “Passing Game Coordinator” and likely QB coach. We’ll examine Roderick’s influence in the passing game more when we go through the WR position group and QB position group in subsequent weeks.

However, when specifically looking at the TE position, TEs under Roderick, when acting as an OC at Utah, fared favorably. At least 5 different TEs had career highs in receptions and receiving yards when Roderick was their OC versus when someone else was the OC during their college careers. The difference is not small. On average, between the 5 TEs (Harrison Handley, Siale Fakailoatona, Evan Moeai, Kendrick Moeai, and Dallin Rogers) during the 2010, 2015, and 2016 season (when Roderick was OC) they gained an average of 212 receiving yards a year with Evan Moeai topping out the group with 308 receiving yards in 2016. That may not seem like much, but compare it to the average 60 receiving yards a year in the years that follow without Roderick among those same players. That’s a 71% loss in production (if my math holds.)

In short, while there were no Dennis Pitta’s under Roderick at Utah, there is cause for optimism for the production of the position in the passing game in 2018. Combined with the retention of TE position coach Steve Clark and new OC Jeff Grimes’s massive running game experience, the TE group has every reason to be a well-balanced/well-rounded group which could end up being the strength of the 2018 offensive.

567844cd45c1b.imagePictured: Current BYU Passing Game Coordinator and former BYU WR, Aaron Roderick catching a pass via heraldextra.com

Returning starters:

Matt Bushman (SO.) A Freshman All-American, recently returned from a mission, Bushman led the team in receiving last year with 520 receiving yards and 3 TDs. A consistently reliable target no matter who the QB was, Bushman’s best game was against MWC runner-up Fresno State, where he caught 9 balls for 97 yards. He is expected to retain the main TE position in 2018 and will continue to be among the most targeted players in the passing game. Out of high school Bushman was also recruited by Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Washington.

JJ Nwigwe (SR.) Officially listed as an offensive lineman on BYU’s roster, Nwigwe was primarily used as a blocking TE, though he did have 1 catch for 12 yards against San Jose State. Nwigwe is listed at 6’5” and 275 lbs – an insanely large receiver (Rob Gronkowski, an All-Pro TE for the New England Patriots is listed at 6’6” and 265 lbs) Nwigwe is a hulking figure for the position group. Out of high school, Nwigwe was recruited by Cal, Colorado, Kansas, Navy, Nevada, New Mexico State, North Carolina, and SMU.

7UK7VZ4XIVDSPOZ2BE67QI4E64Pictured: BYU TE JJ Nwigwe celebrating with BYU RB Squally Canada after a TD run against Hawaii, via sltrib.com

Returning Contributors:

Moroni Laulu-Pututau (RS JR.) Moroni was lost to the season before the season began last year, and likely will consider 2017 a redshirt year. Before transitioning over to TE, Moroni was a 6’4” WR who has gained 389 receiving yards and 3 receiving TD’s so far in his college career. In 2016 there was considerable buzz for MLP coming out of fall camp and we saw some flashes of brilliant playmaking ability in 2016. Also a former basketball player, safety, corner, and kick returner in high school, if MLP is able to keep his health expect him to make some major contributions to the passing game.

Hunter Marshall (RS SR – RM Transfer.) A Snow College transfer, Marshall had originally committed to Georgia Tech before his mission. Marshall was the primary blocking TE in 2016, who backed up Tanner Balderree as a pass catching TE. That year he caught 7 catches for 66 yards and 1 TD but saw his production drop off last year, as he only played in 1 game. He is projected to be the backup to JJ Nwigwe. In High School Marshall was a star player for both lacrosse and basketball.

Nate Sampson (RS JR.) Sampson redshirted last year, but played in 4 games in 2016, after returning from his mission. In high school Sampson was a solid contributor as a linebacker on the defense.

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Pictured: BYU TE Moroni Laulu-Pututau makes an athletic catch against Fresno State’s defense, via sltrib.com

New Faces:

Hank Tuipulotu (RM FR.) A legacy recruit back in 2016, Hank was a 3* recruit out of high school who received interest from Air Force, Navy, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and South Carolina.

Ben Tuipulotu (new recruit.)  A legacy recruit and brother of Hank Tuipulotu, Ben was a 2* recruit out of high school who played safety and WR. He is projected to be a TE for BYU.

Bentley Hanshaw (RS FR.)A legacy recruit whose father played in the NFL, Hanshaw redshirted last year. Out of high school he was also recruited by Arizona State, Cal, Pittsburgh, Oregon State, UCLA, and Utah.

Joe Tukuafu (RS FR – Transfer.) You might recognize Tukuafu’s name from the drama relating to the difficultly he has had transferring from Utah State to BYU. For the 2018 season he should be eligible to play, as he was required to sit out a year in 2017 per transfer rules.

700459406Pictured: BYU TE Joe Tukuafu catches a pass during BYU’s 2017 Spring Camp, via deseretnew.com

For more information about the newest recruits, I encourage you to visit:

http://bluecougarfootball.blogspot.com/2017/12/byu-announces-first-13-members-of-2018.html

which has a comprehensive list of each.

 

Key Loses:

Tanner Balderree

 

Notes:

  • Nate Heaps is also listed on the roster as a TE.

 

Projected depth chart:
(compare to https://www.loyalcougars.com/football-roster/depth-chart/)

TE 1 – Matt Bushman
TE 2 – Moroni Laulu-Pututau
TE 3 – Joe Tukuafu OR Hank Tuipulotu

Blocking TE 1 – JJ Nwigwe
Blocking TE 2 – Hunter Marshall
Blocking TE 3 – Nate Sampson

 

Translation/Final thoughts: There shouldn’t be many surprises in the TE department. Since the position returns an All-American Freshman who also led the team in receiving last year, barring injury, we should see a healthy dose of Bushman and MLP in the passing game with Nwigwe clubbing skulls in the blocking game and getting some catches to keep the defense honest. The rest of the active players on the roster (who don’t redshirt or go on missions or get injured) would provide depth and possibly rotate to keep the starters fresh.

 

Offensive Previews:
Offensive Line Preview
Running Backs Preview
Wide Receivers Preview
Quarterbacks Preview

Defensive Previews:
Defensive Line Preview
Linebackers Preview

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