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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Tight end position continues to morph

By Brad Bournival

The day could come soon when Urban Meyer and Thad Matta will compete for the same recruit.

Such is the nature of the “new” tight end in football.

“I think the future is that good-sized athlete that is a small forward in basketball,” Mentor (Ohio) High School coach Steve Trivisonno said. “It’s that body that can do a little bit of everything. That’s what you’ll see more and more of. That kid that will be 6-4 and 245 pounds that can block and catch. When you have that, that’s special.”

The trend began with Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, basketball players who became future NFL All-Pro tight ends. They were tall, big and fast. They could catch the ball in traffic and create matchup nightmares.

Jeff Heuerman
TE Jeff Heuerman had an outstanding spring and could be an impact player in the fall.
The idea morphed into getting a bigger, faster athletes on the field at the tight end spot instead of a de facto third offensive tackle. Yes, he still would have to block. But he was a threat to gain chunks of yardage on any down, too.

Then-Florida coach Urban Meyer deployed 6-foot-1, 245-pound Aaron Hernandez, and he responded by winning the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end as a junior. Hernandez had 68 receptions for 850 yards and five touchdowns and he has become a force in the NFL.

“The tight end in its old form was a big, blocking guy that could catch a few balls throughout the year, but now it’s become a big, long kid who can block and catch,” Trivisonno said. “He’ll catch 40 balls and do all sorts of different things. He’s 6-foot-4 and can go after it. They can do a little bit of everything.”

Trivisonno is a 17-year head coach at Mentor and 29-year veteran in the high school ranks. His spread offense might pass a little more, but it’s pretty close to the one Meyer uses at Ohio State.

Last season, the Cardinals beat the last two Division I state champions en route to a final four appearance.

One of Trivisonno’s players is North Carolina tight end commit Brandon Fritts. Last season, as a junior, Fritts caught 73 passes for 1,188 yards and 17 touchdowns. Trivisonno will use the first-team all-state selection in a hybrid role this season.

Now with the Buckeyes, Meyer took tight end Jake Stoneburner and turned him into more of a wide receiver last season. Stoneburner averaged 16.8 yards per reception and had four touchdowns. Meyer likes to put athletes on the field and look for mismatches.

“When he was at Florida, that’s the way he used Aaron Hernandez,” said 2013 OSU signee Marcus Baugh, a four-star tight end out of California. “Hernandez was the first hybrid tight end that people really knew about in college. He was the one that really started using the position in that role. It’s worked out, I guess.”

This season, Meyer calls the tandem of Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman the best he’s had and plans to use them in both the running and passing game.

“The game has changed because they’re using the whole field now,” Trivisonno said. “There’s a lot of zone reads by the quarterback. It’s now a case of whether he takes off and gets around the tight end on a run or whether the tight end goes out in the flat and is used there.

“It’s changing because you spread the field to take advantage of the athlete that can do everything. When you do that, you realize how big a football field is. Now, you’re getting games in the 40s and 50s when you used to get games in the teens and 20s.”

It’s something fans will continue to see at every level.

“The high school teams that run the spread will use the bigger guys as a faster tackle,” Baugh said. “Even the teams that run the pro style are looking for that mix tight end. They’re going to demand more.

“When Chip Kelly went to the Eagles, he started transforming their offense. I’m sure they’re looking for a more athletic tight end. If that works, you’ll see more and more of that at the next level.”