BYU enters the fall season with not one, but two sophomore tight ends who may earn serious All-American consideration by the end of their senior campaigns in Provo.
Consequently, they will force defensive coordinators to adjust their schemes to account for two potential game-breaking playmakers on virtually every down. More importantly, they provide a sustainable boon to BYU head coach Gary Crowton and assistant Mike Empey's offensive arsenal.
Sophomores Daniel Coats and Philip Niu are both good enough already to start for many Div. 1 programs. They saw a lot of game snaps and success last season as freshmen. Indeed, they gave expectant Cougar fans a glorious glimpse of what life could be like again with a powerhouse double-bang at tight end.
Crowton has a dream dilemma in figuring out how best to use both tight ends this season. Clearly, the designated starter will be Coats, who earned his stripes in spectacular fashion against some tough competition last year. He signed with BYU as a heralded and highly-coveted wide receiver. He was also named the Utah prep athlete of the year. Recognizing his potential at tight end, Crowton immediately redshirted him to add 30 pounds of muscle and make the conversion to tight end.
Coats started last season on fire, quickly becoming the main focus of BYU's offense, but faded later in the season after the constant pounding he received from defenses keying in on him as one of the few effective offensive weapons for the Cougars.
The 6-3, 250 pound Coats now must regain his early freshman form with consistent play and avoid the untimely pass-catching drops he occasionally lapsed into. The national media expect him to emerge as one of BYU's main offensive threats. He has the size, strength and athleticism to become one of the top tight ends in the country this season. Pass-catching consistency is the keyword for Coats.
Niu, on the other hand, showed first team form when he replaced an injured Coats last season. Though he was injured throughout spring practice, he is healthy now and working toward making as dominant and efficient an impact as Coats. Don't be surprised to see more than a few alignments with both on the field at the same time.
The 6-5, 243 pound Niu played as a true freshman last season and came on strong later in the season, showing great athleticism and consistency.
If Niu improves on his impressive play from 2003, Coats improves his game-time pass catching consistency and both become effective pass/run blockers, they may well be one of the best tight end tandems in the country – as sophomores.
As good as the top two tight ends are, the No. 3 BYU tight end is not anything close to chopped liver. The 6-5, 230 pound sophomore Jeremy Gillespie was very impressive in practices last season and during spring. Look for Gillespie to see playing time this fall.
Other newcomers include Dennis Pitta, a 6-4, 210 pound freshman walk-on that coaches believe will provide depth at tight end with the abundance of quality receivers now in the program. Pitta impressed coaches with his work ethic and hard-nosed play since arriving from Moorpark, California.
Other backups include Johnny Harline, who recently returned from an LDS mission. A great leaper, and Andrew Stacey.
The bottom line: BYU's tight end game should be a major strength of a much-maligned Cougar offense looking for redemption heading into the 2004 season.
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