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Courtesy BYU Photo
BYU tight end Matt Bushman heads up field after making catch against Fresno State in Fresno, California, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. After a stellar freshman season, big things are expected of Bushman this year.

PROVO — Wanted: Big, tall, beefy, soft-handed, agile playmakers who can catch, block and fill in a tradition-rich position for BYU football. The skinny, faint of heart, and often injured beware; it’s a battle out there.

Another Dennis Pitta or Jonny Harline would do just fine.

Freshman All-American tight end Matt Bushman needs running mates. He has all the tools to make himself a significant target in the Cougar offense this fall. He is quick, athletic, has very good skills as a receiver, and after putting on significant layers of muscle, he’ll be a better blocker in the offense Jeff Grimes wants to run.

But it will be all the better with more tight ends to share the load, fit into double-tight formations, apply pressure to linebackers and safeties and make big plays.

The candidate pool was being built up, then it has struggled.

A year ago Bushman was joined by converted receiver Moroni Laulu-Pututau, and returned missionary Joe Tukuafu was also supposed to contribute for Ty Detmer. But a week before the opener, Laulu-Pututau suffered a Lisfranc injury and Tukuafu failed to gain a release from Utah State, where he signed out of high school before missionary service. O-lineman JJ Nwigwe converted to tight end as Tanner Balderree and Hunter Marshall had their own challenges in order to contribute.

This summer, Laulu-Pututau claims he is 100 percent back. Nwigwe is more experienced and a proven blocker. But Tukuafu isn’t on the roster. Freshmen Tanner Leishman, Nate Heaps, Hank Tuipulotu and Dallin Holker look promising but need vetting, experience and development, ranging from weight gain to exposure to the rigors of Div. I football.

I’ll put it this way: BYU needs its tight ends to be productive in order to win. It always has. It is also a recruitable position the Cougars have traditionally filled with stars.

Is July too early to say there is a depth issue prior to fall camp?

I think so.

Folks will need to step up. Grimes might need to lend fullback Brayden El-Bakri or some offensive linemen to a few formations.

Right now, tight ends coach Steve Clark is “absolutely” sold on Bushman’s progress. He’s bigger and stronger. “He needs to hold up in the run game,” said Clark.

“Laulu-Pututau is 100 percent and we need to keep him healthy," Clark said. "He looks good. He is healthy and he is explosive. Keeping him healthy is easier said than done. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a great asset.”

Clark said he expects Tukuafu to be back on the roster. “But I don’t know when that will be. It is definitely doable. He will be a really good one.”

Clark said you always need playmakers and can always use more. Tuipulotu will be brought along slowly and will be evaluated carefully as he progresses. “He has that great name and hopefully he’ll be in the same mold as his father Peter.”

Holker’s stats out of Lehi were eye-popping. He was a target of now-Washington State QB Cammon Cooper and, early on, Holker could be effective out of the slot. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he caught 97 passes for 1,766 yards and 22 touchdowns his senior year in a Pioneer uniform.

“You have to be cautiously optimistic about young players,” said Clark.

He knows a freshman like Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can come in and make an immediate impact, but that isn’t usually the case. There is some baking time needed to perfect things.

“For some guys, it takes a little time and we’ll have to see where he stands. Dallin graduated early and was able to work out with the team and we were able to put in a lot of offense with him. We need to see how he transitions.”

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Clark said Nwigwe (6-5, 260) has the blocking deal down and Bushman is entering the realm of body-to-body warfare. He’s had to add more fleshy armor to do so.

“You have to remember Matt came in as a receiver in high school, not a tight end, and this is a little bit foreign to him. It’s challenging for Matt and he’s done everything we’ve asked of him. This will be a big fall camp for him because we know he can do the route running and catching, he just needs to hone in on the run, that other aspect.”

It will help that his father-in-law is Chad Lewis, a former NFL Pro Bowl tight end with the Philadelphia Eagles.