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Fiery Longhorn Caleb Bluiett misses DE, but now excelling at TE

Known as "The Weapon" in high school, the junior's versatility is now paying off for the Longhorns.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns junior tight end Caleb Bluiett can't help himself -- since starting to play football at age 13, he's spent a lot of time pursuing quarterbacks and that dislike doesn't just go away overnight.

"We're still working on Caleb," joked redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard Tuesday. "I can sometimes still see the hate of quarterbacks in him."

The 6'4, 258-pound Bluiett certainly has an aptitude for pursuing opposing signal callers. In his years at Beaumont West Brook, he got after quarterbacks while playing linebacker, defensive end, and defensive tackle, recording eight sacks and 10 quarterback hurries over his last two seasons.

After arriving at Texas, Bluiett spent his redshirt season at tight end -- a position he played some in high school -- before bouncing between defensive end and tight end once again in 2013, causing a quarterback pressure and sacking Baker Mayfield once against Texas Tech after settling in on defense.

As a sophomore, he continued to break out, providing a spark in the first 12 games before suffering a knee injury against TCU. With Cedric Reed playing through a torn meniscus and Shiro Davis failing to provide much in terms of disruption, Bluiett was the team's best defensive end at times, capable of playing on the strong side or at the Fox position. All told, he finished fifth on the team with 3.5 sacks and looked poised to continue that production into 2015 as long as he could come back quickly from his knee injury.

An injury to redshirt sophomore tight end Blake Whiteley during fall camp and the unfortunate ending to the eligibility saga of 2015 signee Devonaire Clarington left a void at tight end, however, and the plans for Bluiett changed once again this fall, as he became the only tight end with the necessary size and mass to excel as an in-line blocker.

Interestingly enough, it's at the H-back position where Bluiett has shined the most brightly, using the same agility and relentlessness that helped him create all those pressures and sacks to acquire defenders in space and open up holes for the same players he used to try to tackle in practice.

Make no mistake, though -- Bluiett still misses playing defense and isn't afraid of admitting it.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "I've always been a defensive guy. I thought I was going to miss hitting people."

Fortunately for hard-edged junior, and the Longhorns, playing tight end for a team that has run the ball 111 times against 28 passes in the last two games still involves a lot of aggressiveness.

"The good thing about being a tight end, you pretty much get to hit somebody every play," Bluiett said. "You don't really have a problem. You just switch your mindset from trying to get someone to trying to save someone pretty much."

As Power and Counter have become staples for Heard and the running backs, Blueitt has become a reliable lead blocker, even more consistent than sophomore Andrew Beck, also a former defensive player recruited as a linebacker out of Florida. Check out the effort from Bluiett on this play:

As a whole, the Texas tight ends and H-backs have produced only 10 catches for 96 yards and one touchdown -- modest, to be sure -- but Bluiett has been the biggest receiving threat of the three.

Against Oklahoma State, he showed some burst and some ball skills in separating and then elevating to bring in a pass that could have easily been broken up:

In the Cotton Bowl, Bluiett didn't just provide some spark for the team with the fire and juice that he says he wants to provide to lift his teammates, he caught the first pass out of the 18 Wheeler package for a touchdown.

As the halftime whistle sounded prior some time before Bluiett's big catch, a Texas coach had to separate him from an Oklahoma player after Bluiett said he got hit in the throat while splitting up a pile. In those situations, that little bit extra tends to come out in the fiery competitor and it certainly exemplified and catalyzed the proceedings of the season-defining performance.

Just in case that wasn't enough to endear him to fans, with the Horns behind the chains and pinned back near the team's own end zone late in the third quarter against the Wildcats, Texas needed a big passing play after spending most of the quarter running the football.

So play caller Jay Norvell used the threat of Bluiett arc blocking to get him open down the seam and despite a wet and waterlogged football, Heard was able to hit him dead in stride for a huge 28-yard gain.

Figuring out how to use Bluiett has been a learning process for Norvell, leaving some upside for the offensive orchestrator to tap into as the season progresses. Even if the once-again tight end doesn't become a major threat in the passing game, he'll still continue to do what he does.

"I really enjoy the game. I enjoy the sport. I enjoy the team. Anything I can do that can help the team out, I'm willing to do it. If it's me bringing energy or just doing a little extra, I want to do it."