COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One development worth watching this fall will be the role of the tight end in Texas A&M's offense.
With two players, junior Nehemiah Hicks and senior Michael Lamothe battling for time on the field, there are a pair of options that bring good size to the table. But how will they fit into an offense that is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers, preferably those with receiver speed?
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is curious to see how that plays out, particularly with the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Hicks who was injured during spring practice.
"We want to see what he can do athletically, whether he's physically able to handle a 250-260 pound (defensive) end ... how fast he is and what kind of target he is inside or outside, we'll see," Sumlin said. "If we can find a guy like that, it makes our jobs a whole lot easier because you never have to take a guy like that off the field.
"That's why those guys are hard to find and hard to recruit and they get paid a lot of money at the next level. So there's not a whole lot of them walking around. So I'm anxious to see what he can and if he can help us, it'll be a real bonus for it."
Players of traditional tight end size weren't often seen when Sumlin was at Houston, though there was one extensively used in Sumlin's first year, when 6-foot-3, 235-pound Mark Hafner led the Cougars in catches (86) and touchdowns (11) while recording a team second-best 907 receiving yards in 2008.
In Sumlin's final three years at Houston, no tight end recorded more than two receptions in a season, though the small handful that were on the roster were used in part-tim situations. In 2011, the Cougars even used an offensive lineman to line up at tight end on short yardage running plays.
At Texas A&M, there are options with the kind of size desired for a tight end. But Sumlin said the Aggies won't simply put a tight end on the field just for the sake of doing it.
"It's no secret we've used two tight end sets in the past, whether they were on the line or in the backfield or whatever they've been to create some problems for the defense,” Sumlin said. “So if we can get two guys that can play, then we'll play them. It doesn't make sense to put him in just to say he's in the game. If he can't block anybody or if he can't get open, it doesn't do us any good. If we have two effective guys, we'll use both of them."
The position took a bit of a hit in terms of depth when junior tight end Hutson Prioleau decided to leave the team, though Lamothe and Hicks are listed at No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, respectively, entering fall camp. Last season, Lamothe proved versatile by lining up both at fullback and tight end, catching 14 passes for 109 yards. Hicks caught 12 passes for 106 yards and shared starting duties with Lamothe and Prioleau, starting seven games and playing in 12.
"Both are very talented guys that have played a lot here,” offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. “So we're excited how we can fit them into the offense and find ways to use them. But they're doing a great job for us right now."
Kingsbury said he's looking for someone who is versatile in what they do within the offense.
"They've got to be able to do more than just put their hand on the ground or stand up," Kingsbury said. "You want a good mix of both, so we'll see if they can fit in to what we're doing."