Oklahoma Sooners: Connor Knight

Oklahoma fans yearn for the time when Jermaine Gresham was catching long touchdown passes to help knock off Oklahoma State and Texas. Or even James Hanna keeping defenses honest with his forays down the hash mark.

It has been two years since a tight end caught more than three passes in a season at OU, although Trey Millard filled a tight end/fullback role in 2012 and 2013, catching 30 passes in 2012 and 11 passes in 2013.

When you're young you want to blame it on other things. As I've matured I've realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [eleven] here.

-- Oklahoma TE Taylor McNamara
The Sooners are hopeful a strong receiving threat emerges this season with Blake Bell, Taylor McNamara, Connor Knight and Isaac Ijalana competing for time at tight end. OU has used players in the role of tight ends, with Millard and Aaron Ripkowski filling the void, during the past two seasons. But a passing threat like Gresham has escaped its grasp.

“There’s just not a lot of Jermaine Greshams running around,” coach Bob Stoops said. “You have to have the right people and they have to be experienced, so when they go on the field they have to be better than another personnel grouping you might have out there.”

The Sooners’ depth at receiver made wideout-heavy personnel groupings in passing situations the right move during the past two seasons with OU preferring to have Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard working the middle of the field instead of a bigger threat.

As OU builds the offense around Trevor Knight, the desire for a versatile threat at tight end increases thanks to Knight’s run-pass skills.

“It makes it more versatile as an offense,” McNamara said of the use of versatile tight ends. “If you have them in there and don’t know what personnel to put out there, you can run it and throw it so it’s a benefit, for sure.”

And McNamara is hoping to be that guy.

The junior’s development has been overshadowed by Bell’s move to tight end and Ijalana’s recent arrival from the junior college ranks but the California native stepped on campus with plenty of accolades of his own. A four-star signee and Army All-American, a lot was expected from McNamara but he will enter his redshirt sophomore season without much fanfare. Yet, after briefly wondering if OU was the right place for him, McNamara decided he was willing to shoulder the blame for his lack of an impact during his first two years in Norman, Okla.

“When you’re young you want to blame it on other things,” he said. “As I’ve matured I’ve realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [11] here.”

His progress as a redshirt freshman brings hope that he can fulfill the promise he brought with him as an early enrollee in the spring of 2012. After a strong showing in bowl preparations, McNamara’s lone catch in crimson and cream is a four-yard reception in the Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

“The whole year I was working to get better,” he said. “Eventually I got good enough to help the team and get to play a little bit. Getting to play at all was a blessing, it’s a lot more fun when you’re involved.”

This spring is a critical time for McNamara, who at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds brings good size and could become the receiving threat the Sooners have been searching for in recent years.

“I’m here to play,” McNamara said. “I don’t want to sit my whole career here. I want to make an impact.”
Spring football is just over the horizon.

Oklahoma is coming off a banner 2013 campaign featuring an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Alabama, yet the Sooners have several position groups they need to address if they hope to make a national title run in 2014. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the top five position groups that need to improve during OU’s spring practices. On Monday, we kick off the series with the Sooners tight ends at No. 5.

The breakdown

On campus: Blake Bell, Sr.; Sam Grant, So.; Connor Knight, So.; Taylor McNamara, So.; Isaac Ijalana, So.

Summer arrival: Carson Meier, Fr.

[+] EnlargeCarson Meier
Bob Przybylo/ESPNSignee Carson Meier could be a factor at TE sooner rather than later.
Summary: The actual numbers are pretty brutal. In 2013, OU had more tight ends on the roster than actual receptions from the position. The Sooners’ four tight ends combined to catch three passes in 13 games. Coaches keep saying they’d like to get the tight ends more involved in the offense. Is 2014 finally the year? Not unless someone steps up at the position to prove they can be a major factor in the passing game.

Bell’s move to tight end gives the Sooners a talented, big target. While his inexperience at the position will be difficult to overcome, he will understand defenses and coverages much better than most tight ends. He’ll have to work hard in the spring to get familiar with the position.

McNamara is the lone returning tight end who had a reception in 2013, a 4-yard catch in the Sugar Bowl. It’s a make-or-break year for the junior in a lot of ways. This spring will be his opportunity to carve himself a role in the offense and force the coaches to use the summer months to devise ways to get him involved in the offensive plans for 2014.

Ijalana is a athletic junior college signee who will have three seasons to make a mark on the program. The Sooners hope he starts making an impact this fall and this spring provides the opportunity to show he's ready to make an impact right away.

Knight, the twin brother of quarterback Trevor Knight, has proven to be a valuable asset who earned himself a spot on the depth chart last season as a walk on. The underdog of the group, he could become a contributor.

Grant is known for his blocking prowess and could become a contributor in running situations. If he shows he can be a factor in the passing game during the spring, he could rise up the depth chart.

Meier will arrive in the summer and could be the most complete prospect of the bunch. He might not make an immediate impact, but he has the skill set to develop into a tight end who can excel in the running game and make defenses account for him in the passing game.
The No. 1 reason offensive tackle Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan) and his family took a trip to Minnesota last week wasn’t so Beyer could clear his head of all the distractions in recruiting. Beyer, originally from Minnesota, was there to see family and friends. In the process, though, the recruiting scene became crystal clear to him.

When his family returned to San Antonio, Beyer knew it was time to make a decision. Monday morning he called Oklahoma offensive tackles coach Bruce Kittle and let him know he wanted to verbally commit to the Sooners.

Kittle couldn’t have been happier, Beyer said, and the amazing outpour of OU fan support Beyer has seen in the 24 hours since his commitment has given him confirmation that OU is the school for him.

“This has been incredible,” he said. “I cannot believe these Sooner fans. They’re crazy. I don’t think any school has fans as passionate as them.”

Offensive tackle Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan) is not making any excuses. He isn’t harboring any resentment.

The reason his recruiting didn’t take off initially was because of what he did to himself last summer. If it’s possible, Beyer overworked himself. He wanted so badly to get bigger and stronger that he stopped listening to his body.

During offseason workouts, Beyer said he was getting tired while lifting. And then it was just a domino effect. Fatigue led to bad form. Bad form led to injury. An injury that never really went away during the 2011 season.

Beyer suffered an incomplete fracture of the L5 vertebrae and was forced to watch most of the 2011 season from the sidelines.


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