The Texas Longhorns will have at least one tight end in the 2015 recruiting class with the move of Mesquite Poteet product DeAndre McNeal from wide receiver to tight end, a position at which McNeal will join another former wide receiver in redshirt freshman Garrett Gray.
The 6'1, 236-pound McNeal is now officially listed as a tight end on the roster after moving to that position for the start of fall camp.
Blessed with remarkable quickness and agility for a player of his size, he'll know have the opportunity to make plays in space against linebackers instead of smaller, faster cornerbacks. Instead of having a major mismatch in size, he'll now go against opponents who will often struggle to keep up with his straight-line speed.
The decision wasn't one forced on McNeal by the coaches, either -- Charlie Strong said on Friday that McNeal came to them and asked to make the move himself, one many viewed as inevitable because he came out of high school at around 230 pounds.
"The thing about [DeAndre] is that he's gained some weight and is just physical," Strong said. "He doesn't care where he plays and has some toughness to him. If the guy catches the ball in the open field, he can create a mismatch for a linebacker."
If there's a knock on McNeal playing tight end, it's that he has marginal height to ever play as a in-line tight end since he's listed at 6'1. Still, there's a need for move blockers in the new offense after the departure of blue-collar blocker extraordinnaire Geoff Swaim and the physicality that McNeal showed playing linebacker in high school should translate to the offensive side of the ball as long as he's willing. And asking for the position change is a definite sign of that willingness.
Then there's his versatility after playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, safety, and cornerback during his high school career. McNeal clearly has an aptitude for the game that makes learning different positions easy for him. As a senior, he averaged 9.5 yards per carry, 21.2 yards per catch, and nine tackles for loss, four sacks, an interception, and six passes defensed to go along with 56 tackles defensively.
Now he just has to put hits on defenders instead of players with the football.
One thing that McNeal may have to watch is his weight -- since his ability to turn a short pass into a long gain is an elite attribute for his size, he has to be careful about losing it by gaining too much weight, as Strong said he hasn't stopped eating since he arrived in Austin this June, gaining around 10 pounds or so in the process.
During his recruitment, McNeal was famously promised the first catch of the season against Notre Dame. However, Strong said on Thursday that he wanted to know which coach told that to McNeal, so perhaps it didn't come from the head man after all.
As a result, McNeal may have to wait a few plays before he has a chance to make an impact, but if the offensive brain trust can find favorable match ups for him -- a task that should not be too difficult -- he'll have the ball in his hands and the opportunity for some game-changing plays before long.