BYU football: Better tight end production is task one for Cougar offense
Provo • Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said after Saturday's practice that identifying the two tight ends who can restore that position's rightful place in the BYU offense will be his primary task the next two weeks.
Little did he know that less than 30 minutes later the list of five candidates would be trimmed by one at least for the next month or so.
Sophomore Devin Mahina, battling with four others to be one of those two go-to guys, broke a bone in his right hand, post-practice X-rays revealed. Mahina is scheduled to have surgery on Sunday and will be out for three to five weeks.
Mahina was still recovering from a neck injury that forced him out all last season. Juniors Richard Wilson and Austin Holt suffered knee injuries last season that also caused them to miss spring camp, leaving junior Kaneakua Friel and then-undersized Marcus Mathews to finish the season.
If there's any consolation to Mahina's setback, it is that Mathews and Holt have seemingly emerged as the top two tight ends, although neither Doman nor tight ends coach Lance Reynolds would acknowledge as much this weekend.
"We've got some guys who are capable," Reynolds said. "The only real thing we can guarantee anybody is that we are going to play the best guys that we can. So it is up to them to be the best players they can be."
Said Doman: "It is going to be an interesting battle."
Without question, the position will be utilized more this season, after tight ends accounted for just 57 of the team's 262 receptions last year, and just four of its 28 touchdown catches. All-American tight end Dennis Pitta caught 62 passes alone for BYU in 2009, for 829 yards and eight touchdowns.
"Part of it was scheme; part of it was personnel," Doman said. "So I would say it is half-and-half issue that we were dealing with last year. We just couldn't get that position to be as productive as we wanted.
"I think we overshot the mark schematically early, and then [Holt and Wilson] got hurt. So a combination of those is what ailed us, or caused us to not be as good. But this year, the scheme provides a ton of catches for those guys. â¦ The tight end-quarterback chemistry is not there right now. We got to get that going."
And fast. Which is difficult to do when clear-cut starters haven't emerged.
Mathews bulked up considerably in the offseason, and is now listed at 6-foot-4, 236 pounds. Three days into camp, he's gotten the most reps. While Mathews was considered a "flex tight end" last season, and always lined up in the slot, that description no longer applies, Doman said.
"They are all going to be called tight ends now," Doman said. "Marcus won't just be considered a flex guy. â¦ Really, for this offense to be able to be what it needs to be, we need a guy that can do both."
That's Holt's mindset as well, and he hopes to show coaches that he's not just a blocking tight end. He said his knee is "100 percent healed" and doctors gave him total clearance a week before camp started. Both Wilson and Holt will wear knee braces all season, however.
"I really don't know for sure [who will be the top two guys]," Holt said. "Coach [Reynolds] came in and told Marcus and I that we would be running with the ones. He is moving the other guys around a lot with the twos. But who knows? We have a lot of talent, all of us. We have a lot of guys who can play, a lot of guys with starts under their belt."
BYU tight end production, 2011
Player Rec Yds TDs
Marcus Mathews 27 299 1
Austin Holt 11 180 0
Richard Wilson 11 130 1
Kaneakua Friel 7 55 1
Matt Edwards 1 9 1
Totals 57 673 4