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Will BYU Football experience the return of the tight end?

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With Ty Detmer leading the offense, will the Cougars once again find the tight end?

Tanner Balderree celebrates with running back Algernon Brown.
Tanner Balderree celebrates with running back Algernon Brown.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

For a number of years the BYU Cougars offense, under Robert Anae, has experienced a drought in position that has traditionally been a strength in the BYU high octane offense. Cougar greats such as Gordon Hudson, Clay Brown, Chad Lewis, Chris Smith, Itula Mili, Dennis Pitta, Andrew George,  and Jonny Harline have walked onto the hallowed grass of Cougar Field in this capacity, many having continued on professionally. However, with a new sheriff in town the fans may see a return to an era where the tight end position was key.

From the time Kalani Sitake took over from the departing staff the Cougar faithful hoped, and maybe even prayed, for the return of Ty Detmer to the fold. Detmer, arguably the favorite son of BYU football and sole Heisman Trophy winner, was coaching in Texas and had kindly declined opportunities in the past to return and join the BYU staff.  He played and studied under Lavell Edwards and Norm Chow, two of the greatest minds in football.  During the years with Ty Detmer at the helm, the Cougars offense completed roughly 25% of their passes to the tight end, allowing their big receivers to catch the ball, not just block on the line.

In the last three years of Anae reign, the Cougars used the tight end in the passing game sparingly as they completed only 7% of their passes to the tight end. Some may argue that Terenn Houk was used as a tight end last year, although he wasn't listed on the roster as such. Even if we add his numbers in as a tight end the percentage only jumps to around 12%. Even being generous the recent offense has utilized the tight end in the passing game less than half of how Chow did, at best.

Year Receptions Touchdowns
1988 55 4
1989 64 5
1990 77 3
1991 39 3
Totals 235 15
Year Receptions Touchdowns
2013 31 2
2014 20 3
2015 9 1
Totals 60 6
Year Comp. to TE Total Comp % to TE
1988-91 235 958 24.5%
2013-15 60 828 7.2%

Although these numbers don't guarantee that the new Detmer run offense will be better suited for a tight end, it gives us a pretty good idea. Detmer ran an offense under Chow that valued the catching tight end, and the numbers prove it. Detmer has also mentioned a number of times since his return that his desire is to incorporate the tight end in his offense as a passing threat. Up to this point we don't have much data on how this will pan out during the season, but if the spring game gives us any indication, it is right where it needs to be. In the scrimmage the Cougars completed a total of 16 passes with five of them going to tight ends. That would be around 31% for those that don't like math.

From initial appearances it looks like Bryan Sampson and Tanner Balderree will lead the tight ends into battle, however this could change based on fall practices and how the legal issues play out for Josh Weeks. Regardless of who is playing on the field, the Cougars are looking for more than just a body that can block for the quarterback. Routes have been designed for the tight ends and they will get the ball thrown to them. The question is who will step up and catch the ball.

The current crop of tight ends have been under utilized in the passing game and are not used to getting the ball in a game situation. Many of them have had blocking drilled into their brains as their primary function. That is no longer the case under the leadership of Detmer. Tight ends that have come through BYU in the last few years would be chomping at the bit to have played in the Detmer run offense, and many such as Devin Mahina and Kaneakua Friel could have excelled on the field.

With a new offense peaking over the horizon, the Cougar faithful will anxiously await for fall so they can see the man at the end of the offensive line rise up and once again make an impact in the passing game, and on the stat sheets. With the ghosts of Cougar tight ends of old lingering on the field, reminding the current players of the possibilities ahead, watch as the BYU Cougar tight end rises like a phoenix and again becomes a force to be reckoned with in Provo.