The five I have — I love them. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic with them, and I don’t want to put too much pressure on them, but I really like what they’re able to do. —BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark
PROVO — BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark had a lot more to talk about during this year's Media Day as opposed to the last one.
In 2016 Clark took the reins of a position group that largely didn't exist prior to the hiring of offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. He started last season with a very inexperienced group of players who hadn't recorded a single reception between them while starting pretty much from scratch regarding the development of true pro-style tight ends.
This year it's an entirely different story.
Although there's still plenty of work ahead, Clark talked confidently and enthusiastically about the group of players available to him this season.
“The five I have — I love them,” Clark said. “I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic with them, and I don’t want to put too much pressure on them, but I really like what they’re able to do.”
The five tight ends Clark has to work with includes senior Tanner Balderree (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) and junior Hunter Marshall (6-3, 235)— both of whom had a lot of game experience last season, along with converted wideout Moroni Laulu-Pututau (6-4, 230.) Promising freshmen Matt Bushman (6-5, 235) and Bentley Hanshaw (6-6, 225) are also in the mix. That number could expand to six should Joe Tukuafu (6-6, 280) receive clearance to play after deciding to transfer from Utah State.
Which of the five will play most is still up in the air, with fall practices set to begin July 27. Clark isn't necessarily looking for just one player to rise above the others during practice sessions.
“It’s not a priority,” Clark said. “If it happens, then great, but I think four guys can do it.”
In regard to what all five do well, Clark says Balderree and Marshall are the two who can be depended on to block, while Laulu-Pututau and Bushman are more receiving-type tight ends. That doesn't mean Balderree and Marshall will be used primarily during short-yardage sets and Laulu-Pututau and Bushman during throwing situations, however.
“We have to be careful to not sub in tight end-receiver (types) when we want to throw it and bring in our blockers when we run it,” Clark said. “We can’t become too predictable, so we need to be smart, that way.”
For Laulu-Pututau, he's all for expanding his skill set in the pursuit of becoming an every-down tight end. He's added 20 pounds in the offseason, and although he was limited with a hamstring injury during spring practices, he was able to work on key aspects of the transition from wideout to tight end.
“I didn’t miss all of it and I think I was able to work on my weaker parts, which are the new stance and blocking,” Laulu-Pututau said. “So they would play me in spring ball for those things.”
According to Clark, learning how to block effectively isn't mainly about technique.
“Blocking is like rebounding, it’s 90 percent wanting to do it and 10 percent technique and they’re willing to do it,” Clark said.
Bushman is also working to become a more complete tight end, while hoping to maintain the momentum he gained after the spring scrimmage.
“Once he relaxed and got some confidence, he played faster,” Clark said of Bushman. “Now he’s kind of on auto(pilot.) He can just run and he knows what to do. It comes very naturally to him.”
Clark is excited to see what Hanshaw can add to the mix and remains hopeful that Tukuafu can get clearance to play, stating, "He could help us a lot — especially with his size coming off the line. ... Overall I'm excited about what these guys can do, but we still have a lot of work to do."