PROVO — The last time BYU football fans saw Dennis Pitta in action, he wasn't quite full strength.
When they see him on the field again in 18 days, however, the senior Biletnikoff Award candidate expects to be better and healthier than ever.
"I feel good right now. I'm 100 percent and I'm excited and ready for the season," Pitta said Monday after practice.
Last season, the two-time first-team All-Mountain West Conference tight end from California suffered a sprained MCL after taking a helmet to the knee in the Air Force game, which rendered him ineffective in the Utah game and required him to play with a brace in the Las Vegas Bowl. Prior to the injury, however, Pitta was one of the nation's best, and still finished the year with 83 receptions and 1,083 receiving yards.
Amazingly, he did that despite facing double-team defensive schemes most of the season. Considering opponents gave Pitta that kind of attention when the Cougars had dangerous wide-out Austin Collie on the field, imagine what they'll do without Collie to also deal with this season.
"We saw a lot of double coverage inside last year and I don't expect anything different this season," Pitta said.
Having fellow senior Andrew George back and the addition of redshirt freshman Braden Brown should help, however.
"We've got a lot of weapons out there to use and it's going to put a lot of strain on defenses and make them have to be accountable to our other guys. It's really going to help us spread the field and do a lot of things offensively," Pitta said.
George, a 6-foot-5 senior from Colorado who would be the main guy for many teams, is also healthy and optimistic about the coming season. Even in a back-up role last year he had 23 catches, and the same number to TD receptions as Pitta — six. He's had outstanding spring and fall camps. At Saturday's scrimmage he caught five passes for 90 yards, and in Monday's 11-on-11 sessions he had two catches for 47 yards and one TD.
"I'm a guy that is going to know what he's doing on every play. Teammates are going to know what they're going to get from me, and if anything happens to Dennis I'm a guy that can fill in and we're not going to miss a beat," George said. "So really, I feel like I'm an execution guy that can get everything done."
Brown, a 6-foot-6 Highland High product, is being groomed for a bigger role by Pitta and George, but will be used mostly this season in running situations. He might even play some fullback. In practice Monday, however, he did have an 8-yard TD reception.
"Right now my job is mainly to block for Harvey (Unga) and the other running backs, but I'm fine with that. I like to hit people," Brown said.
Cougar assistant coach Robert Anae recognizes the depth and talent he has this year at the tight-end position, but what he likes most from Pitta and George is their leadership.
"Those are the guys who are going to lead us through times when things are not clicking," Anae said. "They are the guys who are going to be asked to do a little more if the offense stalls, or if we have a key situation in a key drive. Any time we need to lean on somebody, in the tight end spot, we have senior guys who can do that."
Pitt and George welcome the roles.
"I think it's important that we step up and be leaders," Pitta said. "We've been here a while and we know the system and can contribute a lot. So it's our job now to be the ones who the other guys turn to."
HALL INJURED BUT OK: Quarterback Max Hall suffered a dislocated finger on this throwing (right) hand during 11-on-11 drills on Monday, but team trainer Kevin Morris popped the finger back in place and Hall continued practicing. In fact, Hall threw a touchdown pass to George after the injury. Following practice, Hall iced down the hand.
Hall completed 7 of 12 passes for 78 yards, two interceptions, and a TD, during Monday morning's session.
ANOTHER COMMIT: Cottonwood High lineman Jordan Afo has committed to BYU over the weekend, according to totalbluesports.com. The Cougars now have 25 commitments for their class of 2010.
TIDBITS: The Cougar defense had some outstanding moments in Monday's practice. Brandon Bradley blocked a field goal, and freshmen Craig Bills and Jared Richardson each had an interception. Offensively, third-string quarterback Riley Nelson was 5-of-6 for 47 yards and a TD.