After listening to Mack Brown prattle on about the lack of tight ends and how maybe Reggie Wilson or Chris Whaley or Caleb Bluiett or Malcom Brown or Dalton Santos or any of a handful of other defensive players could be moved to that position, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had to speak up.
“Are we going to play 12 tight ends?” the Texas defensive coordinator said. “Every time you all mention something, every player on defense now is going to be a tight end.”
Diaz might have been exaggerating, but Texas is searching high, low and on the other side of the ball for a tight end. It has not yet found anyone to fill the position that really has statistically been a non-factor since Jermichael Finley left following the 2007 season.
Since that year, the most catches by a tight end in a season has been 16. That came last year with D.J. Grant grabbing 16 passes in 13 games and scoring three touchdowns. Six of those catches and all three of those touchdowns came in one game, UCLA.
So it is easy to see why Brown is so concerned. It’s also hard to fathom why the concern was not more pressing say back in 2008, 2009 or any year after Finley left.
What Texas has …
Well, D.J. Grant is back and his knees appear to be holding up OK. But he no longer has the speed or cutting ability that made him one of the most sought after recruits in the country. Texas also has Barrett Matthews back. But Matthews is a one-dimensional player who is typically going to be utilized in blocking schemes alone. The same holds true for Luke Poehlmann.
Texas utilized the tackle as a tight end in some sets, but aside from his one touchdown reception in the bowl game against Cal, Poehlmann was strictly a blocker.
Backup tight end Dominique Jones has had academic issues. Plus he only had one catch for 14 yards in his five starts in 2011.
That has left Texas pinning all its hopes on redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland.
“We've got M.J. McFarland coming along,” Brown said. “I think M.J. is about 260 [pounds] now. And he had a really good offseason with the redshirt year. And we're excited about watching him this spring. But we think he can step up and help us.’’
But Texas doesn’t know for sure if McFarland is ready. It might find out this spring.
What Texas needs …
Somebody, anybody to step up and become a versatile playmaker who can not only go out in pass patterns and drag a linebacker with them or set the edge for the run game and allow one of the trio of running backs to get to the outside.
Texas is going to experiment with defensive end Reggie Wilson this spring to see if he is that guy. The Longhorns tinkered around with Chris Whaley at tight end during the bowl practices. But it appears as if Whaley will go inside to defensive tackle.
There are a few of the freshmen that could get a shot at tight end as well but they are not around for the spring. So for now, Texas must make do with what it has.
“We feel like we've got some good candidates coming who have played better at tight end this year than we did at the beginning,” Brown said.