Oklahoma Sooners: Taylor McNamara
No. 88 Taylor McNamara, tight end, 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, sophomore
Impact thus far: He started a game as a true freshman before injury forced a medical redshirt in 2012. As a sophomore, McNamara played in three games in 2013. He made his first career reception against Alabama and enters this season with one career reception for four yards in two years on campus.
Impact in 2014: More and more the Sooners have been using tight ends as key pieces of the offensive attack, so the opportunity for McNamara to earn a role is there. It wasn’t unusual for the Sooners to use two-tight end sets last season, and that trend could continue in 2014, but Blake Bell, Aaron Ripkowski and Dimitri Flowers are his main competitors to fill one of those slots. Quite frankly, it’s up to him.
Long term upside: It really depends on his progression. He needs to prove he can force his way onto the field.
Evaluation grade for McNamara: C. He hasn’t lived up to his hype as a four-star U.S. Army All-American, but he still has time. This season is an important one for McNamara and he started showing signs he might be ready to make an impact at the end of the 2013 season.
Development grade for McNamara: B. The Sooners could have given McNamara more playing time during the 2013 season but the onus also falls on McNamara to force himself into the lineup, as he did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Thus, the Sooners have handled his development relatively well.
Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:
- BJ Finney, Kansas State
- Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- Joey Hunt, TCU
- Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- Ty Darlington, Oklahoma
Monday, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Hornung (most versatile player) watch lists were released.
Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:
- Lou Groza Award, best place-kicker
- Ray Guy Award, best punter
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy, best defensive player
- Outland Trophy, best interior lineman
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back
Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman
Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver
Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.
Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back
Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, offense only, on OU’s spring finale. Check back later today for a defense only post. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.
- Undoubtedly some Sooners fans left the stadium disappointed with what they saw from Trevor Knight. He finished 5-of-14 for 53 yards with one interception. Yet it’s not time to panic, for several reasons. First, Sterling Shepard was on the sidelines. The junior will be Knight’s go-to receiver and could become one of the Big 12’s best playmakers. Two, Knight was going against a solid and athletic defense while using a relatively vanilla offense. Three, injuries along the offensive line didn’t make things any easier, with multiple projected starters out of the spring game. Finally, Knight's ability to make plays with his feet was taken away with his blue, no-hit jersey limiting his impact in the running game.
- Nonetheless, Knight must play better. Period. Some people have been quick to insert his name among the nation’s best after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance. He’s still young, relatively inexperienced and has been inconsistent at times early in his career. Let’s wait until he’s consistently efficient before we anoint him as one of the nation’s, or even the Big 12’s, top quarterbacks.[+] EnlargeMark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight had a rough outing on Saturday.
- Anyone who was surprised by Baker Mayfield’s performance must have missed the rest of the Big 12 in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year for a reason.
- Mayfield seemed genuinely excited to be a Sooner. He grew up an OU fan and said he would have decided to join the Sooners even if Blake Bell had not changed positions and Kendal Thompson did not transfer. While he is ineligible to play this fall, his presence could pay off big time. OU’s defense will be tested in ways you normally wouldn’t expect from a scout-team quarterback and the Sooners defense should make Mayfield a much better player with its overall talent and playmakers all over the field.
- Tight end Taylor McNamara had two touchdown catches in the spring game. Could a pass-catching tight end return to OU’s weekly game plans this fall? Maybe. A wait-and-see approach would be wise, as adding a big receiving threat has been a goal for the past two seasons. McNamara and former quarterback Bell, who missed the spring game with an injury, appear to be the most likely candidates at tight end if it does happen.
- Speaking of receiving threats, true freshman Dimitri Flowers should make an impact this fall. He spent a lot of time with the first-team offense before a hyper-extended knee ended his day. He can block, he can catch and he’s picked up the offense as if he’s entering his junior season. It appears OU has found a hidden gem in the three-star Class of 2014 signee. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the big-bodied receiving threat OU’s offense has been lacking as his blocking and overall versatility could secure a key role in the offense, allowing the Sooners to adapt on the fly.
- OU has talented receivers but will miss Jalen Saunders, a likely NFL draft pick. K.J. Young and Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods each showed flashes of ability but need to develop quickly if the Sooners hope to provide quality receiving options for Knight this fall.
- Nobody seized the starting running back spot with a eye-opening day. Daniel Brooks led the way with eight carries for 67 yards and Keith Ford finished with nine carries for 29 yards. Alex Ross, who had been praised throughout the spring, added three carries for six yards. The door is wide open for Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, two ESPN 300 running back signees, to make an immediate impression on the coaching staff and earn carries this fall. The Sooners need someone to step up and make defenses account for them from the running back position this fall. It doesn’t matter who it is.
- OU could end up looking back at this spring as a critical time for developing depth along the offensive line. Several linemen, including guards Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson, sat out the spring game, allowing backups such as tackles Josiah St. John and Sam Grant to get plenty of chances. The offensive line struggled at times.
- The backup quarterback position remains up in the air, but Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, looked solid, going 5-of-9 for 52 yards and a touchdown. Justice Hansen, a true freshman, struggled with the speed of the game at times, finishing 4-of-8 for 58 yards and one touchdown but with some good moments.
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.
“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.
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
“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  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.”
- Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps could be emerging as the frontrunner to start for the Jayhawks.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops defended the program's approach to academics in the wake of a HBO "Real Sports" segment that included the Sooners.
- Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has dealt with a lot of changes during his college career.
- Former West Virginia star Noel Devine is trying to make a comeback and starred during the Mountaineers' pro day.
- Former Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George rebounded with a solid pro day after a disappointing NFL combine showing.
- Former ISU defensive back Jeremy Reeves could have put himself on the radar of NFL teams with his pro day performance.
- Baylor has three early enrollees who are getting a jump start on their college careers.
- Texas Tech will hold an open scrimmage in Midland, Texas, on Saturday.
- OU tight end Taylor McNamara is hoping to make an impact this season.
- Oklahoma State continues to turn to graduate assistants to run special teams.
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.
On campus: Blake Bell, Sr.; Sam Grant, So.; Connor Knight, So.; Taylor McNamara, So.; Isaac Ijalana, So.
Summer arrival: Carson Meier, Fr.
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.
Ripkowski was a critical replacement when Millard was sidelined midway through the season. The former walk-on has been an impact player since his freshman season and should continue to play a major role in OU’s offense while lining up all over the field.
On the cusp: TE Taylor McNamara (So.)
McNamara actually saw the field during OU’s 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory and (gasp!) caught a pass. OU’s tight ends finished the season with three receptions for 33 yards, including McNamara’s 4-yard reception against Alabama. But, McNamara’s Sugar Bowl performance aside, don’t expect OU’s tight ends to become a big part of the offense until it actually happens. The coaching staff has been talking about it for years.
Sophomore tight end Sam Grant is another option at the position but didn't become a key contributor during his redshirt freshman year.
On the recruiting trail: ATH Dimitri Flowers (San Antonio/Churchill), TE Carson Meier (Tulsa, Okla./Union), TE Isaac Ijalana (Mount Holly, N.J./Pierce College)
Ijalana is a junior college signee who is a solid prospect at the tight end position. He should give the Sooners an immediate option as they try to replace Millard and Brannon Green.
Millard’s excellence and versatility sent the Sooners on a search for a player who could aim to mimic his ability. Flowers is the result of that search and OU hopes Flowers can develop into a player who can line up at fullback and tight end with equal effectiveness. The question is how soon can he start to slide into a similar role.
Meier, the No. 277 player in the ESPN 300, is a prototypical tight end. He brings good size, good ball skills and the ability to block effectively. He’s the exact type of well-rounded tight end prospect the Sooners will need to have if they hope to make the tight end position a productive part of their offense.
Overall Grade: D
Ripkowski kept this grade from being an F. He’s physical, experienced and talented, so the Sooners would really be up a creek without him returning. OU has minimal experience and no proven playmakers after Ripkowski. Neither McNamara nor Grant have never made a significant impact and the rest are newcomers. But if Flowers, a unique prospect, can develop into a Millard clone, it might not matter what else happens with the rest of the group. One of those prospects emerging as one of OU’s top 11 offensive players and forcing their way on to the field next season is the best case scenario for the Sooners.
No. 88 Taylor McNamara
Tight end, 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, redshirt freshman
With this is mind, SoonerNation has parsed out Oklahoma’s roster into 10 separate tiers. Here they are:
Tier 1: The Elite (Guys who could play for almost anyone)
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Don’t worry, though. If history has proven anything, the Sooners are going to end up with two signees from The Opening. And they’re both coming from California.
In 2011, wide receiver Derrick Woods and tight end Taylor McNamara both went to Beaverton, Ore., and ended up in Norman. Woods is from Inglewood, Calif., while McNamara is from San Diego.
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Who will be the starting quarterback? Will any defensive linemen step up and become playmakers? How will an infusion of youth impact the secondary? Those are just a few of the questions that will surround the program in June and July.
Here’s a look at a few key players who need to have a strong summer if they expect to make a major impact for the Sooners this fall.
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The Sooners have relatively low numbers at tight end with senior Brannon Green, redshirt freshman Sam Grant and redshirt freshman Taylor McNamara as the lone scholarship tight ends on the roster. Adding tight ends will be key for the Sooners in the Class of 2014.
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In 2004, the Sooners put Jason White under center and handed off to Adrian Peterson.
As Stoops pointed out last week, the Sooners have often "played to their personnel." That includes last season, when, after it became abundantly clear the Sooners’ fourth-best receiver was better than any tight end, OU went almost exclusively with four-wide formations.
In recent weeks, the Sooners have taken criticism from ESPN analysts Trent Dilfer and Jon Gruden for not using tight ends. They say it put too much pressure on quarterback Landry Jones to throw the ball downfield.
In several OU victories, Jones’ arm was good enough to overcome the limitations of not having a tight end checking off a route underneath the coverage, streaking down the middle of the field or helping to block in the run game.
But in the Sooners’ three 2012 losses, not having a tight end came back to haunt them, as OU was unable to maintain balance with the run or attack the Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M defenses off play-action.
The OU coaching staff recognized this liability and tried to lure another junior-college tight end to Norman before signing day. But after losing out on Beau Sandland and Emmanuel Bibbs -- the two juco tight ends they thought could provide an immediate impact -- the Sooners were forced to go with what they have.
Only this time, they won’t have Jones’ arm to fall back on. To be successful in 2013, the Sooners will have to run the ball with better efficiency. And they’ll have to also be lethal with play-action. Which means Sam Grant, Taylor McNamara and Brannon Green, whom the Sooners deemed weren’t ready last year, had better be ready to play this time around.
“I feel much better about it,” Stoops said. “The two freshmen [Grant and McNamara] have come along, are stronger blockers, have a stronger presence about what they’re trying to do. Same thing with Brannon Green, more experience in what we want him to do.
“I believe they’ll have more opportunities.”
Despite losing Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, the Sooners figure to be strong at wideout again. Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard should be prolific, and Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal, Dannon Cavil, Jaz Reynolds and others have big-play ability. But as OU transitions to an offense more reliant on the ground game -- as well as the running ability of its inexperienced quarterbacks -- tight end play will be paramount.
It’s no coincidence that when the Sooners have run the ball best, they’ve had stellar tight end play.
Quentin Griffin had Trent Smith.
Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray had Brody Eldridge and Jermaine Gresham.
Even Adrian Peterson had James "Bubba" Moses and Joe Jon Finley.
Stoops says he likes what he saw from the tight ends in the spring. After redshirting last year, Grant showed promise as a blocking specialist. McNamara has put on weight and is finally healthy after undergoing shoulder surgery last season, then tweaking a hamstring after being cleared for spring ball. Green has come along, too.
They’ll never be confused with the 2007 tight end grouping of Gresham, Eldridge and Finley. But if they can be just solid enough to be used, that might be adequate.
The Sooners are always going to play to their personnel. But OU has always been better when the tight ends are included.
NORMAN, Okla. -- With nothing open from his initial reads, quarterback Blake Bell abandoned the pocket. But instead of attempting to truck his way into the end zone, the artist formerly known as the "Belldozer" rolled right.
Near the sidelines, he waited, and waited. And then when he couldn’t wait any longer, Bell stuck a pass into the chest of receiver Durron Neal for a three-yard touchdown.
And sling it he did, demonstrating that the power running that made him a fan-favorite the past two seasons is just one facet of his arsenal.
Bell completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns -- with no turnovers -- Saturday. He also showed the most poise and precision among the quarterbacks to seize momentum in the QB competition heading into the summer.
"I missed a couple throws," Bell said, "But overall, I thought I made some good plays, and was pretty accurate with the ball."
Bell displayed that accuracy from the opening possession, quickly moving the offense down the field with three completions to Jalen Saunders. The drive ultimately ended in a touchdown, when wide receiver Lacoltan Bester scooped up a Damien Williams fumble and raced 35 yards for the score.
With a quarterback derby, three first-year assistants and several new starters on defense, this has been one of the most storyline-rich springs of the Bob Stoops era. Of them all, here the seven most compelling storylines to watch for Saturday:
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