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BYU football notebook: Tight ends in heated battle for starting job

PROVO — Just because the BYU Cougars have a strong tradition at tight-end, cranking out star tight-ends almost as regularly as star quarterbacks, it's not a given that they're going to be a whose-next-in-line star tight-end factory.

"The guys who have played that spot in the past have proven their chemistry with the quarterback and have proven their playmaking ability," Cougar tight-end coach Robert Anae said. "It's not something that is bestowed upon them by any means."

But even with that said, Anae likes what he's seeing from the one junior and six freshmen fighting to take the spots vacated by the graduation of Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, and feels someone will eventually emerge as the next star in that position.

"There will be one, two, maybe three guys, maybe even four, who can do that and earn that," Anae said.

With camp just beginning it appears that Mike Muehlmann, Richard Wilson, Marcus Matthews, Devin Mahina, Bryan Sampson, Austin Holt and Matthew Edwards are running pretty even in the battle for playing time.

"The coaches are just looking to see who is going to execute," said Wilson, who is back at the position he played in high school after redshirting last year as a linebacker. "At tight end we need to be counted on in third-and-longs and any time we get in the blue zone. As long as we can handle that, we'll be OK."

Despite the lack of experience at the position, the wide-open battle for the tight-end job should prove to be positive.

"We all have strengths, it's just going to come down to who goes out there and makes plays and makes catches in this fall camp, and who blocks well, coaches see that and that's who is going to play," Muehlmann said.

Quarterback Riley Nelson is already noticing the intensity.

"Those guys were red-faced and sweaty," Nelson said after Saturday's practice. "From the beginning, during drills, I had to tell them, 'Calm down. It's a long, 20-period practice. Save something.' But they were going all-out. Every one of them was so hungry to contribute to this team."

Anae doesn't seem too worried that the lack of experience at tight end will hamper the Cougars in any way.

"We have sufficient talent in our tight ends and talent in that role to be a very good team. We have sufficient talent there to win a conference title. There will be no talent excuse if we don't get it done," he said.

ABSENT FOR ROLL CALL: Four players who will be on BYU's roster this season did not participate in the first day of fall camp. Freshman running back Drew Phillips and freshman lineman Manu Mulitalo both sat out while some NCAA Clearinghouse matters are resolved. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said both should be OK to play by early this week. On Friday, Mendenhall announced that linebacker Jordan Atkinson and defensive lineman Matt Putnam have some issues, academic and personal, to resolve before they can begin camp.

Linebacker Jordan Pendleton participated in drills, but was held out of the team scrimmages for "precautionary" reasons. Pendleton had offseason surgery on his left shoulder. Freshman tight end Bryan Sampson aggravated a hamstring injury and also sat out the scrimmages.

FASTEST TO THE Y: The annual team run to the "Y" on the mountain east of Provo was held early Saturday morning and defending champion McKay Jacobson beat his time of last year by a couple of seconds, but still finished fourth in the race. Junior receiver Matt Marshall set a record in reaching the "Y" in just over 16 minutes. He edged Robbie Buckner in a sprint to the finish, with defensive back Dalin Tollestrup taking third.

FIRST-DAY NUMBERS: In the two short scrimmages on Saturday, both the offense and defense had some shining moments. Freshman quarterback Jake Heaps was 8 of 13 for 114 yards and two TDs. Junior quarterback Riley Nelson was 5 of 8 for 49 yards and one TD, but also ran for 13 yards and had a 1-yard TD run. Running back JJ Di Luigi had 36 yards on five carries and one 10-yard reception. McKay Jacobson caught one pass, but it was a 44-yard scoring strike from Heaps. Placekicker Mitch Payne kicked field goals of 24, 26 and 30 yards.

On the defensive side, Thomas Bryson had two sacks, Vic Soto had a sack and a pass deflection, and Alani Fua had one sack.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com