The morass of mediocrity that has been the Texas tight end position for the greater part of the last four seasons has shown few signs of emerging as an actual team strength.
Unfortunately for those hoping for a jump this season, the talk through the first two scrimmages has been about dropped passes and generally underwhelming play from the tight ends. Still, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin sounded relatively optimistic about the position when asked on Monday about it, saying that senior DJ Grant has been "good" and that redshirt freshman MJ McFarland is getting "better and better."
The problem is that even if McFarland does eventually break out some time this season, it will most likely be as a threat in the passing game. Since senior offensive lineman Luke Poehlmann looks poised to spend most, if not all, of his time working as a lineman instead of a jumbo blocking surface, the 'Horns will be looking for a big body capable of providing something to similar to Poehlmann's efforts in 2011.
The departed Dominique Jones, who washed out of the program due to academic struggles in the fall semester, was another blocking "solution" Harsin had at this disposal last season no longer available. For 2012, that leaves Greg Daniels, the 6-5, 260-pound redshirt sophomore who had shoulder surgery after he moved from defensive tackle this spring, putting him behind from a repetition standpoint.
However, Daniels has slimmed down from around 280 or so when he was playing defensive tackle, making him look capable of moving well out there.
Harsin has been impressed with the early returns as Daniels adjusts to moving across the football:
I thought [sophomore TE] Greg Daniels did some things in the scrimmage that were pretty impressive in the run game. Just his footwork, and for a guy that hasn't played the position very long. I thought he played with low pad level. I thought he showed some of his strength and his size out there in some of the run game stuff.
Harsin and the rest of the offensive staff would probably be happy with production as a blocker in the run game given the major need there as Texas seeks to improve consistency in an attack that has the potential for dominance by taking the next step there.
In that regard, hearing about the success of Daniels early is heartening -- position changes can often be death knells for a player's career, leaving them buried on a depth chart with little chance of success. In other words, there were no guarantees that Daniels would ever contribute at tight end. If Harsin can be taken at his word, it sounds like the Houston St. Pius X product is at least moving in the right direction.
There's also a bonus here:
And he's been impressive as well in the pass game. Some of the short throws and things like that. So he's a guy that's just starting to come on, and things are starting to click. And you can just feel like he's starting to understand what his role can be for us. I feel like that position is getting better and better.
Daniels probably won't ever be a threat to stretch the seam vertically, but if he can get out in the flats and across the middle, perhaps even use some of the stick concepts that David Thomas ran so successfully, it could be a major boost for Texas.
Buried a bit at defensive tackle with the quality depth there, the move to tight end may work out extremely well for both Daniels and the 'Horns is he can continue on what is apparently a positive trajectory.