PROVO — There’s no doubt about BYU’s Moroni Laulu-Pututau’s ability to run crisp routes and catch passes.
But as the 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior transitions from wide receiver to tight end — a position he’s never played before — there are questions about him being an effective blocker.
For Laulu-Pututau, moving from receiver to tight end “is going well," he said. "The transition was pretty smooth because I learned most of the plays last year. The only difference is now I’ve got to put my hand in the ground and get my nose dirty. I thought it would be a little harder than it is. But it really has gone smoothly, and my coaches are helping me out technique-wise.”
“We’ve moved Moroni there and we feel good about him,” said offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. “We know what he can do as a pass receiver, and now it’s a matter of him accepting that challenge and putting his hand on the ground and to be viable in the run game as well.”
Quarterback Tanner Mangum is confident in Laulu-Pututau as a traditional tight end.
“He’s doing great. He’s a beast. He’s a great player with a lot of potential,” Mangum said. “He’s handling the transition pretty well. He’s flexible. He can line up tight, he can flex out, he can run block, he can catch balls. He’s going to have a big role in this offense, and we need him to step up and play well, and he knows that. He’s working hard to take on that role.”
Laulu-Pututau plans to do a lot of blocking in the future.
“They’re not going to baby me just because I’m coming from receiver. They’re going to run running plays and passing plays,” he said. “It’s going to be just like last year. We’ve got Tanner now and he likes to throw the rock. I’ll be in there for the runs as well as for the passes.”
To play tight end, Laulu-Pututau has put on about 10 pounds, and he wants to pack on “five or six more healthy ones. I don’t want to be too slow.”
When the new coaching staff took over last year, Laulu-Pututau was encouraged to switch to tight end — not only to help BYU’s offense, but also to boost his future NFL stock. Cougar coaches believe he has a future at the next level as a tight end.
Over the winter, Laulu-Pututau approached the coaches about switching positions.
“I think I did (initiate the change) but I think they were waiting on it,” he explained. “It’s about time. I feel like I fit better at tight end. I initiated the move. I think it’s better for the team and personally for my future as well.”
BYU receivers coach Ben Cahoon, who coached Laulu-Pututau last season, said the transition has been positive.
“The only question mark for Moroni is, can he handle the physicality of the running game, blocking as an attached tight end with his hand in the dirt, blocking big human beings instead of small, athletic corners?” Cahoon said. “But as far as running routes and getting open, most of his production was done in the slot last year. That hasn’t changed. The passing game hasn’t changed much. He’s a difference-maker. He can run and can stretch the field vertically from the tight end position. It makes a difference when you have somebody that can stretch the field. It’s hard on defenses. He’s got all the skill set of a wide receiver as far as the ability to set up a guy, run a great route and manipulate a defender and get open. I’m really excited to see how that changes our offense.”
With tight ends Tanner Balderree and Hunter Marshall out for the spring due to offseason surgeries, Laulu-Pututau, Matt Bushman and Joe Tukuafu have been getting a lot of reps.
“We’re pretty athletic. We’re really diverse in size,” Laulu-Pututau said of the tight end group. “We have Joe, who’s 280 pounds. Me and Matt are 230. We have a lot of different guys that we’re going to be able to put in different spots to make plays.”
Laulu-Pututau has already proven himself as a playmaker, having caught 33 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns in his career. Now he’s trying to prove himself as a blocker.