You are the upside here, Mr. McFarland (Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE).
With fall camp now underway, BON is taking a look at the storylines surrounding each position entering the 2012 season. After talking about the quarterbacks and running backs last week and the wide receivers on Monday, it's time to talk about the tight ends.
One of the best moments from the 2011 season was being in DKR at the start of the Rice game when Irby took the field there for the first time since blowing out his knee in 2008. Seeing him haul in a pass from Jaxon Shipley to stem early Aggie momentum and cut a 13-0 lead to 13-7 on Thanksgiving was right up there as well.
Since he missed two full seasons with his injury and most of a third, he could have applied for another year of eligibility, but decided that he didn't want to risk another knee injury and opted to end his career with his health mostly intact. Good for him.
Even if he hadn't caught a pass all season, his ability to make it most of the way back physically after going through nerve damage in his knee and being given little chance to play again makes him one of the most inspirational Longhorn stories in recent memory.
Darius Terrell, the former high school receiver and basketball player, opted to transfer to North Texas and mentioned a desire to play receiver again, and represented another failed converted wideout for the Longhorns. He likely would have earned some playing time at H-back in 2012 had he stuck around.
Jones was not with the team in the spring after failing to qualify academically for the Holiday Bowl. He was perhaps the best blocker of the group from last season, but his playing time decreased as the season went along.
Arrivals: Caleb Bluiett (Beaumont West Brook)*
*Click the name for the player's Recruiting Spotlight
Called the Weapon in high school for his versatility -- Bluiett played defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, tight end, and was the deep snapper -- the 6-3, 238-pounder was recruited originally as a defensive end, but will start out at tight end with increased depth at defensive end, and could also compete for the deep snapping job immediately.
An athletic prospect who also was a good baseball player for West Brook, Bluiett may be able to help stretch the seam vertically from the tight end position. He showed strong speed for his size covering kicks in practice at the International Bowl, and at 7-on-7 prior to his senior season, showed his ability to cover downfield by making an acrobatic interception that gave evidence to his ball skills. He can move.
Moreover, Bluiett showed the ability in practice at the International Bowl to take instruction from his coach and immediately translate it to his technique -- he's clearly a savvy player. Whether he makes it onto the field probably depends on how his blocking comes along, but he has all the tools to eventually become a solid tight end for Texas, if not a little bit more.
Starters: There's some cause for optimism here -- redshirt freshman MJ McFarland caught the long pass from Case McCoy down the seam in the Orange-White game and DJ Grant was running better during the spring than he did in the 2011 with several more months removed from his bad knee injury that limited him for so long.
While each should be assets in the passing game, the question is how well they can perform as blockers. Grant generally seems amenable to the task, but when he's playing in an attached role, his lack of height (6-3) and mass (238) mean that he's generally at a disadvantage against most defensive ends. However, better strength in his lower body as he more fully recovers should help him anchor better.
As for McFarland, he has the prototypical size desired at the position and also has the effort level and willingness to learn, he's just still adjusting from player outside as a wide receiver in high school. During the spring game, he received two 15-yard penalties while trying to block -- one questionable call for getting a crack-back block a little above the shoulder and the second more warranted on a holding call on the edge. Both things that McFarland will need to clean up before the season starts or risk killing some drives.
Depth: If the depth was strong at the position, Bluiett wouldn't have been moved over so quickly after arriving on campus. There is senior Barrett Matthews, who is as tenacious in defending his right to eat late-night pizza as he is as a blocker, though his size makes him better suited for fullback and his hands, well, they're not very good. There's also Luke Poehlmann, who should see most of his time at tackle with the losses there, but was a situational tight end for blocking purposes and caught a touchdown pass against Baylor last season.
Sophomore Greg Daniels has slimmed down to around 260 pounds after spending last season at defensive tackle, but he has little experience at the position and missed the spring due to a shoulder injury, so he's a complete unknown. Likewise for junior Trey Graham, who appeared ready to give up the game after several leg injuries, but will apparently go it a go this fall. Whether he can still move at all is a question mark.
Sophomore Miles Onyegbule will be making the transition from wide receiver last season after showing himself to be one of the team's best blockers there. His older brother put on about 60 pounds while in college at Kansas and Onyegbule was struggling to keep himself in the 230 range, so it was a natural move for him. However, he will be limited a the start of fall practice due to an injury from the spring.
Recruiting: It's been some time since Texas landed a true high school tight end who could become a difference-maker in the passing game in college, but that's exactly what the 'Horns appear to have in Belton tight end Durham Smythe, a 6-6, 230-pounder who is young for his age and still has plenty of growth left on his frame.
Smythe is a bit underrated as a three-star prospect by Rivals who is working to improve as a blocker and already has natural pass-catching skills, as well as experience flexing out as a wide receiver, which he even did some for Team USA during the World Championship.
Opting to pass over high school talent like Red Oak's Jeremiah Gaines and Mansfield's Trent Gow, the coaching staff opted instead to take a flyer on JUCO product Geoff Swaim, who hails from Butte Community College in Oroville, California. The 6-5, 250-poud Swaim has the size to be a pure in-line guy, but works as a move player for Butte, lining up as an H-back and fullback in addition to his normal tight end duties. A tenacious and persistent blocker with good technique, don't expect Swaim to provide much in the passing game, as he's had only a handful of catches over the last two seasons.
What to watch for in fall camp: How do McFarland and Grant perform in the blocking game? They should provide some upside as receivers (their collective strength), but co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin will ask both to execute one-on-one blocks against defensive ends to set the edge. Can they do so? Will anyone step up behind them to provide quality contributions? Perhaps Greg Daniels in the short-yardage blocking game?