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BYU hoping tight ends get healthy by time season kicks off

PROVO — With Matt Bushman, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Nate Heaps and Hank Tuipulotu recovering from injuries and surgeries; Dallin Holker departing on a mission; and JJ Nwigwe moving to the defensive line, BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark joked that he spent spring drills working on his golf game.

While Clark has collected a wealth of talent at the tight end position, most of his players were shelved during the spring.

“I’m really excited about this group, but we’ve got to put them in bubble wrap,” Clark said. “If we stay healthy, it’s a great tight end corps. They’re so good. It’s the way it is. It’s football. You have to go to the next guy.”

Despite that position being decimated by injuries and other factors, Clark kept plenty busy in the spring working with other players that were available.

“(Offensive coordinator Jeff) Grimes isn’t slowing down. It’s full speed ahead,” he said. “I’m getting those guys coached up to be able to not hold the offense back. We’ve got to know a lot of stuff. It’s been a lot of fun teaching guys with a blank slate. It’s been challenging. They’re not the same level of knowledge that I’ve been working with the past few years. I don’t know how much we would play Matt and Moroni in the spring anyway. It’s good for the younger guys to get the reps and the experience.”

While it’s a frustrating situation dealing with all of the injuries, Clark enjoyed developing players like Addison Pulsipher.

“He’s really smart and he allows us to do a lot of the things we did last year,” Clark said. “He’s not great in the pass game, but without him it would be a real struggle. Addison knows how to do it. Brayden Keim just got off a mission. It will take some time for him because he’s so new. Tanner Leishman has been in the program. They all know what to do, it’s just getting them the reps. They were on scout team last year.”

Like the rest of the BYU football program, Clark is hoping that the injured tight ends will be ready to play by the time the season kicks off Aug. 29 against Utah.

Tight end Hank Tuipulotu poses for a photo at BYU's Indoor Practice Facility in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.
Tight end Hank Tuipulotu poses for a photo at BYU's Indoor Practice Facility in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Laulu-Pututau missed the entire 2017 season due to injury and then he suffered a torn ACL during the Washington game last September.

“I can only go off of what the doctors say and what he says. He says he’s feeling good and the doctors say he’s right on track," Clark said. "I say, ‘Great.’ I’d love to have him playing but it’s not in the cards right now.”

Bushman, a Freshman All-American in 2017, dealt with a shoulder injury most of the season and underwent surgery during the winter.

“Matt got cleared to start running and lifting a little more. That was good news,” Clark said. “But he’s a ways away from contact. Hank’s the same as Moroni. They got hurt the exact same week. We had a package in for Hank. He was going to play (against Washington). He caught the ball and turned — and hurt his ACL. That was it.”

During spring practices, the injured tight ends spent time teaching the less experienced ones.

“Matt and Hank and Nate Heaps, they’re coaching,” Clark said. “We’ve put them to work. It helps them stay fresh. It helps the younger guys.”

Speaking of younger guys, Clark is happy about the tight end recruits that will be joining the program in the future.

Like back in BYU’s glory days, the program is enjoying a steady influx of talented tight end prospects like Isaac Rex, Donovan Hanna and Carter Wheat. Both Rex and Hanna signed in 2017 and are finishing their missions. Wheat signed with the 2018 class.

“There are some guys coming in and some guys coming off missions,” Clark said. “It’s a pipeline.”

As for the near future, the Cougars can't wait to see Bushman and Laulu-Pututau, who figure to play prominent roles in BYU’s offense, cleared to play and back on the field by the time the 2019 season starts.

“The sky’s the limit, honestly. We have a really, really good tight end corps. It’s really diverse. We’ll get some people in here in the fall and people back," Laulu-Pututau said. "As long as we can stay healthy, it will be hard to stop us. We’ll have weapons all over the field. The tight end group as a whole has a little more experience than the other position groups. Once we get healthy, we’ll do some work.”