Texas coaches looking for right fit at TE

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has blockers.

And it has receivers.

What the Longhorns don’t have is a combination of both. In other words, a tight end.

“Still a concern,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, when asked about it recently.

That’s pretty much been his standard answer for going on, well, years now. The concern is more pressing these days because of the shift in offensive philosophy Texas has employed under co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.
D.J. Grant
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireD.J. Grant, who is a converted wide receiver, had three touchdowns last season.

“What we did (in previous years), is we had a spread offense that we took a bunch of receivers and had them beef up and become tight ends,” Brown said. “And now we’re probably going to have to start looking at a different type of tight end coming in.”

The type that can block and catch.

That is the type Harsin had at Boise State. Not only did having a complete tight end allow the Broncos to set the edge in the run game, but there was production in the passing game as well.

In Harsin’s final three years as offensive coordinator with the Broncos, the tight ends averaged 540 receiving yards and seven touchdowns per year. Texas had 223 receiving yards and four touchdowns from the tight end position in 2011. Three of those four touchdowns came in one game. The other was to tackle Luke Poehlmann in a goal line situation where he was used at tight end.

“We've got to get settled and be better at tight end,” Brown said.

Yeah, no kidding.

Texas is trying to do just that. But, again, personnel is an issue.

D.J. Grant, the player Texas thought could become the tight end it needed, has suffered through knee injuries. Grant was far and away the most productive tight end in 2011 with 16 catches for 180 yards and the three touchdowns. But Grant, who was a wide receiver in high school, sorely lacks the blocking skills necessary to be an every down player.

Barrett Matthews can block but not catch. Plus Texas wants to take a look at him as a fullback because of depth issues there.

That leaves Greg Daniels, a converted defensive lineman who cannot participate in spring drills because of an injury, sophomore Darius Terrell and redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland. Each has his advantages and disadvantages but none of them are the complete package Texas needs.

“We’d like to get past the point where we have to put Luke Poehlmann in to block every time we’re going to run,” Brown said. “And put one of those other guys in every time were going to pass.

“It’s such a tendency that we need to find the right guys here. And that’s one of the issues with the last nine practices here. We want to figure out who we are at tight end and what we have to do with this offense to get better.”

McFarland appears as if he might be that guy.

“Where he is now, and with not going through the entire season and getting the reps, he has done a nice job,” Harsin said. “We will really see with him that second half of spring, once it's all in, where he takes the next step offensively for us.”

But it is clear he has the skill set necessary to block and catch for Texas.

“He's a big dude that is physical and can run,” Harsin said. “He's made some catches out there, and he is into it. He enjoys practice. He enjoys preparing out there.”

Still there are issues.

“He’s got everything we need,” Brown said. “But he has not been a blocker in his life. And we’ve worked on it everyday it’s legal since he’s been here to get him to be lower in his stance. He stood up as a wide receiver. He’s never been in a stance. So all of this is different for him.”

It’s all different for all of them. That’s the problem. And that is why it is a concern for Brown.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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