Texas Longhorns: M.J. McFarland

Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 85 M.J. McFarland
Junior tight end


Recruitment rewind: A four-star tight end from El Dorado High out in El Paso, McFarland's decision was supposed to come down to Texas and Texas Tech. But he took a junior day visit to UT in 2010, locked in his commitment and never looked back. McFarland put up 2,604 receiving yards and 39 TDs at El Dorado and was able to enroll early at Texas in the spring of 2011.

Career so far: McFarland redshirted in 2011 and walked into some big expectations as a redshirt freshman. He hauled in eight passes for 125 yards and one touchdown in 12 games (four starts) that year, but he suffered a concussion late in the season. McFarland was relegated to a more limited role last fall and did not record a catch in the 11 games he played.

Best-case scenario for 2014: For years, McFarland has been trying to live up to the hype that he could be the Longhorns' next great tight end, its next Jermichael Finley. He hasn't come close to that bar yet, but there's still time for McFarland to become a weapon over the middle. He can be Texas' best pass-catcher at tight end and could get a lot more looks if he breaks back into the starting lineup. After all, Louisville's top tight end last year (Gerald Christian) did get 36 targets and finished with 426 yards and four TDs.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels have a leg up on McFarland in the tight end room, even with Daniels missing spring ball, and it's entirely possible juco transfer Blake Whiteley rises up and becomes the superior receiver of the group. Simply put, McFarland has to put in a lot of work this summer and has fall camp to prove he deserves to be on the field ahead of that trio.

Future expectations: Swaim and Daniels are both seniors, and Texas does not have a tight end committed for next year. Unless another juco transfer or a game-changer like ESPN 300 TE Will Gragg comes on board, that's going to mean a McFarland-Whiteley tandem in 2015. There's plenty of untapped, unrefined potential in McFarland. If the new staff is able to coax it out of him this fall, an already deep receiving corps gets much better.

Texas position groups to improve: No. 5

February, 10, 2014
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Texas is getting off to a later-than-usual start to its spring practices this year, with Charlie Strong set to lead the Longhorns onto the practice field for the first time on March 18.

Until then, we’re counting down everything you need to know entering next season and the next era of Texas football. This week, we’re breaking down the five position groups with the most room to improve in 2014. Here’s No. 5 on the list.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Geoff Swaim
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsGeoff Swaim (left) had three receptions but spent most of his time blocking for the Longhorns..
5. Tight Ends

The players: Geoff Swaim, Greg Daniels, M.J. McFarland, Blake Whiteley

Last year: Swaim, a junior college transfer, started nine games and caught three passes for 14 yards. Daniels also hauled in three passes and picked up 28 yards in six starts. McFarland did not record a reception and appeared in 11 games, mostly on special teams. Whiteley joined the program in January after one season at Arizona Western Community College.

What’s missing: You saw those receiving stats, right? The Longhorns haven’t had a tight end record 20 catches in a season since Jermichael Finley left campus. His last year in burnt orange? 2007.

Louisville made good use of Gerald Christian (28-426-4 TDs) last season, and Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson have relied on pass-catching tight ends in the past (Brandon Pettigrew at Oklahoma State, Mike McNeill at Nebraska). Is this finally the year of the tight end revival at Texas?

Moving forward: Swaim and Daniels were asked to be blockers in Texas’ power run-heavy attack, and on that front they did an impressive job in 2013. Bruce Chambers returns as the tight ends coach and knows what those two can do in the run game, but will either see an expanded role?

McFarland was supposed to be the long-term answer at tight end before his demotion last season. It’s time for him to put it all together. Whiteley is an unknown commodity but was a big-time receiver in high school. Getting him in the program a semester early is a real plus. There’s hope for these guys, and how they’re utilized in the new offense will be interesting to watch.

Four Downs: Opening observations 

August, 11, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week, Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First Down: Up tempo is even faster now

During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 85 M.J. McFarland
Sophomore tight end



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Burnt Orange Breakdown: TE Greg Daniels 

July, 22, 2013
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During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 81 Greg Daniels
Junior tight end


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Question of the Week: Horns on the verge 

June, 6, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- It’s difficult to fathom that a team such as Texas, a squad so meticulously picked over and scrutinized from every angle, could have any under-the-radar players.

But there are still players to be found who have not lived up to their potential but are on the verge of doing just that. And, like always, there is plenty of debate over just who those players might be. For our weekly debate at HornsNations, we decided to take on the question of just who would be the next player or players to step from the shadows and into the spotlight.


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During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 17 Miles Onyegbule
Junior H-back/receiver


Expectations for 2013: It’s slightly surprising that Onyegbule’s career has not taken off yet. He was one of the early surprises in the fall practices of 2011. But Texas’s passing game was a mess that season and Onyegbule only caught four passes. Injuries complicated his 2012 season, as there was a knee injury in the offseason and an ankle injury during the season.


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Four downs: Resurrecting a rivalry 

January, 30, 2013
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1st Down: Lone Star battle

I am a citizen of the great state of Texas. I am a fan of college football. Those two things are enough to want the University of Texas and Texas A&M to play football against each other every year. It is the two biggest and best programs in the state, and Texas A&M has, seemingly, returned to its rightful place at the front of the line with Texas, both in the state and as a national program.

Ryan Guillen, a democrat from House District 31, filed a bill Monday that would require the Longhorns and Aggies to play every year.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- The offseason, especially around Texas these past few years, is typically fraught with worry, speculation and maybe even a smidge of hope.

Everyone wants to know what will happen come fall. No one, despite consultations with tea leaves, crystal balls, the ghost of Madam Hipple, the endless blogs at every corner of the Internet and preseason magazines, ever really does.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t signs or clues of what could happen. History is kind that way, leaving behind a trail that could help tell a future tale.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Longhorns relied on plenty of their usual suspects to overcome Baylor 56-50 on Saturday. But there were some lesser-known players who contributed greatly to Texas ending the Bears’ two-game winning streak in the series.

Safety Josh Turner and tight end M.J. McFarland played arguably their best games as Longhorns and could see expanded roles because of their efforts.

[+] EnlargeJosh Turner
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesTexas defensive back Josh Turner had a big interception against Baylor.
Turner is listed as the backup to Kenny Vaccaro at strong safety but really played a starting role because Texas had to stay in its dime package to match Baylor’s five-wide sets.

He really made his presence known over a two-play period in the middle of the second quarter with the game tied at 28-28. The smaller Turner, who is listed at 6-foot and 177 pounds, stuffed Baylor quarterback Nick Florence for no gain and followed that up by intercepting him on the following snap.

“It was a great read,” Turner said. “It mainly came from our defensive line. They had a great push, and I was in the right place at the right time.”

After an official review upheld the pick, Texas took the ball and capped a five-play drive with a Johnathan Gray 25-yard touchdown, his first score as a Longhorn. The Longhorns never trailed again.

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The Texas 10: Week 8 

October, 22, 2012
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Each week, HornsNation will rank Texas' top 10 performers of the season up to this point:

1. David Ash: The sophomore bounced back from what looked to be a bad wrist injury and what was a bad outing against Oklahoma to lead the offense to 56 points. Ash avoided the costly turnover and connected with Mike Davis on a 67-yard pass play.


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3 Up, 3 Down: Texas 56, Baylor 50 

October, 21, 2012
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For the second straight week, Texas proved it couldn't stop its opponent. The only difference was this time Texas couldn't be stopped either.

The Longhorns, who have given up 600-plus yards, in two straight games, got 532 yards of their own and utilized some of its speed early to pull away from Baylor.

THREE UP

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The Texas 10: Week 7 

October, 15, 2012
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Each week, HornsNation will rank Texas' top 10 performers of the season up to this point:

1. LB Jordan Hicks
He hasn’t played in three games but his importance to the team cannot be underestimated. Texas desperately needs him to help with its run defense and overall maturity.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Believe it or not, there was a time not long ago when tight end was a position of strength for the Longhorns.

David Thomas caught everything thrown his way while acting as Vince Young's security blanket during Texas’ run to the 2005 BCS national championship. When he left for the NFL, the Longhorns made a seamless transition to Jermichael Finley, a better athlete who produced at such a rate that he only stayed for two years before being picked 91st overall by the Green Bay Packers.

The evolution of the position was supposed to continue upward with the arrival of Californian Blaine Irby, and his wavy surfer-boy hair, in 2007. But injuries decimated his career, which he finished on a high note during his senior season in 2011, by playing in all 13 games.

Not only did Irby miss all of 2009 and 2010 with a knee injury but his backup, current Longhorns senior D.J. Grant, was also relegated to the sideline over that span with a knee injury of his own.

[+] EnlargeGreg Daniels
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIGreg Daniels, a converted defensive end, has shown 'progress' for the Longhorns during the preseason.
That left Texas with little wiggle room at a position that seems to still be recovering from seasons devoid of a certifiable pass threat. It’s a recovery process that seems to be lingering as the 2012 season rapidly approaches.

Texas head coach Mack Brown listed tight ends as one of his two main concerns when he met with the media on Wednesday. In the Longhorns’ first scrimmage of fall camp, Brown said that they dropped at least five passes and that they “did not get done what we want to get done.”

What they want to get done varies. The position has always been an essential part of co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin’s offensive philosophy.

Whether it’s putting them in a three-point stance and asking them to seal the edge, motioning them to H-back or out wide to create mismatches with slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs, Harsin, who coached Boise State's tight ends from 2002-05, has always made tight ends a vital part of his game plan.

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Five surprises on Texas' depth chart 

August, 22, 2012
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AUSTIN, Texas -- You knew Texas’ first depth chart for the 2012 season would give the world an answer about the quarterback battle.

Here’s five more things you need to know about the rest of the Longhorns’ two-deep:

1. Defensive tackle

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