After losing Geoff Swaim to graduation and MJ McFarland to a transfer, the Texas Longhorns need redshirt sophomore tight end Blake Whiteley to emerge as a contributor this season.
The consensus No. 1 junior college tight end used a redshirt season in 2014 after transferring from Arizona Western College. He'll now have a chance to earn the starting job, as there isn't much competition -- sophomore Andrew Beck mostly played at H-back last year and will likely remain a move blocker, while 2015 signee Devonaire Clarington faces questions about his ability to become eligible and his skill as a blocker after spending little time in the trenches as a prep player.
So Whiteley may end up being the in-line guy whether he's truly ready or not.
Swaim said early last fall that Whiteley was putting in the necessary work to succeed.
"He is a hard worker," said the blue-collar Swaim. "He has a good work ethic. He is a good guy to be around and he is the kind of guy you can rely upon. You know what you are going to get and you know that he is going to do the right thing."
But other than that offering from August, there weren't many updates on Whiteley's progress last fall, as is typical for most players taking a redshirt.
The path to Texas for Whiteley was an unusual one. A star at wide receiver in tight end at West Vancouver High School, Whiteley caught 76 passes for 1,228 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior, but didn't receive much recruiting attention, a common problem for many Canadian football players.
So he opted to attend Arizona Western, where he caught only eight passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but was able to refine the blocking ability after spending most of his prep career as a pass catcher.
Since he was a full qualifier out of high school, he was able to transfer to Texas after only one year in Yuma before heading to Austin, leaving him four years to play three seasons, a major value-add for the Horns compared to most junior college prospects who have two or three years to play two seasons.
Whiteley pledged to Texas in early 2014 over offers from Arkansas, Virginia, Purdue, TCU, West Virginia, and others. An official visit to see the Razorbacks wasn't enough to convince him to head to Fayetteville over Austin, so he became the first commit of Charlie Strong's tenure as a Longhorn.
Running routes, Whiteley has body control that equals or betters his athleticism, allowing him to twist to make plays on the football. Equally impressive is his ability to catch outside the framework of his body, high-pointing the football when necessary and bending and diving to make plays on balls closer to the ground.
There's not a great deal of advanced route running or much after the catch ability, but that's not overly surprising given the position -- there are only a handful of tight ends in the world capable of making defenders miss on a consistent basis.
So, at the least, there is evidence of Whiteley showing skills that should help endear him to his quarterbacks at Texas.
Utilized often as a move blocker at Butte College, Swaim really had a chance to put some vicious hits on opponents with momentum already generated coming out of the backfield or moving across the formation, a fact that rather colors a viewing of Whiteley's film at Arizona Western, where the Canadian product is also a highly effective blocker, but from a mostly in-line position.
Whiteley may not be as versatile as the former Longhorn -- there's certainly no way from the Western film to tell, really -- but he is persistent enough with his leg drive and good enough with his hand placement to get his fair share of pancakes.
Even in-line though, it looks like Whiteley doesn't quite have the same roll as Swaim through the hips that helps produce his power, but Whiteley's also a year younger in the trenches a position that requires some hard work to develop the strength to root out defenders even at the junior-college level.
Other than Clarington, Texas hasn't landed a tight end prospect of Whiteley's caliber in some time. He's now had a year in the program to make the transition to college football and even if he doesn't become a seam threat in the passing game, merely having a competent in-line blocker would provide major value to the program.
As a result of the incredible need for an impact player at the position, Whiteley is one to watch when spring practice begins in late March.