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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah tight end Cole Fotheringham jumps over a defender as BYU and Utah play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Last season, University of Utah tight ends enjoyed a sort of revival. In 2017, Ute tight ends combined for just 129 yards and zero touchdowns in Troy Taylor’s first year as offensive coordinator.

Just a year later, two tight ends — Cole Fotheringham and Brant Kuithe — eclipsed the 129-yard figure by themselves, with Kuithe at 227 yards and Fotheringham at 190 yards. Utah tight ends combined for 503 yards and five touchdowns in 2018, surpassing anyone’s expectations for the position group.

“Of course, you love it as a coach for that position. You want your guys to get involved and help the team win any way you can, and last year that meant a few more receptions in the passing game, which was great,” tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham said.

“It was great. The thing about tight ends, you can run and pass. Once you started getting the ball more throughout the season, increased the production and just overall, we had a better mindset coming out on the field, knowing that we were going to get the ball, more possibility of getting the ball every single pass play. It just increased our confidence and throughout the season, made us produce more,” Kuithe said.

Now, with Troy Taylor gone and Andy Ludwig — back for his second stint at the school — replacing him as offensive coordinator, the big question for the tight ends is where will they fit into the offensive scheme?

Freddie Whittingham thinks that the usage of tight ends in Ludwig’s scheme will stay consistent, and maybe even go up.

“I believe that Coach Ludwig uses the tight end pretty significantly in his scheme. We have a lot of personnel groups where we’ll have two tight end groups on the field, sometimes more. We’ll have at least one tight end on the field, I think, most of the time. The tight ends are involved as a major component in the running game and the passing game, so I think you’re going to see that usage of the tight ends in the offense stay consistent this year, and maybe even escalate from last year,” Whittingham said.

Ravell Call, Deseret News
Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe goes for yardage with Weber State Wildcats safety Preston Smith defending during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.

Both Fotheringham and Kuithe were a big part of why the Utes utilized their tight ends more than usual last season. As freshmen, the duo combined for 417 of Utah’s 503 tight end receiving yards. As sophomores, they are set up for a good season in Ludwig’s offense.

Kuithe has put on another 20 pounds, bulking up to improve his blocking. He also wants to improve his route running.

“Brant has put on some weight this season, he’s put on about 20 pounds, so expect him to get a little bit more involved as a run blocker and not skip a beat with his production in the passing game,” Whittingham said.

Fotheringham is back for his second season as a Ute, and he wants to improve everything about his game — run block technique, getting quicker in and out of his breaks, route running and understanding coverages.

“He had a great freshman year. I expect him to keep getting better. Cole’s a kid that wants to get better, he comes to practice every day and goes to work, always looks for ways to improve his game, and I think as long as he can stay healthy and keep learning this new offense, I think he has a chance to be really good,” Whittingham said.

Bapa Falemaka, who had offseason shoulder surgery, will not be participating in spring ball as he recovers, but will be back for fall camp.

“It’s going great. He had a shoulder surgery, so he’ll be back in full action in May. He’s unfortunately not able to play spring ball, but he comes to all the meetings, he takes part in everything that he can, and I expect him to be a big part of what he do as well when he’s back healthy,” Whittingham said.

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Thomas Yassmin, a true freshman from Australia, is also in the mix at the position.

“The two guys that are really at the forefront are the two sophomores, Cole Fotheringham and Brant Kuithe. Our Australian kid, Thomas Yassmin, is really making strides and doing some good things. Bapa Falemaka is not participating in spring ball, he’s another one of those guys that had postseason surgery and so he’ll be with us come summer. The position is a little thin, but we feel like we’ve got some really good players,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.