With Salvatore Cannella committing to Auburn over Texas earlier today, I have to admit, I was quite a bit disappointed. It is no secret that new head coach Tom Herman desperately wants another tight end or two on his roster. The fact is Tom Herman NEEDs another tight end or two on his roster.
So why does Herman need a position that for the past several years has been disregarded at Texas? Let me remind you of Jermichael Finley, Bo Scaife, and David Thomas, who manned the position at Texas for most of Mack Browns impressive streak of 10-win seasons. The position is an important staple in most offenses, and Herman’s offense is no different.
The performance of the tight end position last year was perhaps the weakest of any single position on the team, save defensive back. I know everyone wants to look for how many passes a tight end caught to measure success, but that is not the purpose of a tight end. A tight end catching a pass is like dessert, but the meat and potatoes of what the big guy does is blocking, and that is exactly what Herman is looking for.
As mentioned in the offensive preview, Herman has two main running plays in his “smash-mouth spread” offense — the inside zone and the power. The inside zone can be run two ways, as a true inside zone, with the tight end on the line of scrimmage, double teaming with the tackle, then working to the second and third levels, or as a split zone, with the tight end kicking out the backside end or outside linebacker. Either way, the tight end’s block is crucial to the success of this play.
The tight end also serves as a kick out or lead blocker on the power play that Herman loves to run. This play is run as a counter play with motion to the outside of the formation and as a true run play. It can be versatile, run with the quarterback or a running back, and has a variety of read and run-pass options that can accompany it. It’s also pretty useless if there is no tight end/H-back to execute the required blocks on your roster.
In the passing game, Herman likes to use the tight end as a blocker as well, providing extra protection for the quarterback. So there it is, Herman wants a tight end to block, block, and block some more.
Herman will use the tight end on pop passes, in the seam, and in play-action situations, stretching the defense. The tight end can also release as an emergency option in the passing game. Herman will also run snag and stick routes utilizing the tight end, making the tight end a useful part of the passing game.
Okay, so we all remember how Texas struggled in the red zone last year? I will argue that their red-zone struggles were a major contributor in at least three of their losses, but I digress. What is the one most important weapon that can open up both the passing and running game in the red zone? The tight end/H-back. This position is so important in the red zone, Herman will often double up on the tight ends in this situation, giving him multiple options in the run and passing game. Remember, safeties don’t have to worry about the deep ball in the red zone, so they can cheat up on the run and jump pass routes.
Having big bodies to help block those safeties and screen them from the ball will give the Longhorn’s red zone offense a much needed boost. If the tight end is really special, like Cade Brewer, he could even run a fade or corner route in this situation with Collin Johnson running an identical route on the other side. This will really stress a defense’s red zone pass coverage and give the Longhorns the 50/50 ball advantage in this situation. The defense will have to respond by putting more pass coverage on the outside, which will open up the inside running game, and suddenly, the weakness in the red zone is overcome, and the offense is putting up some extremely impressive numbers.
While Brewer may be able to make an immediate impact on the Horn’s passing game, especially in the red zone with his better than average hands and 4.7 speed, he is listed at 6’3, 225 pounds, so he will likely need some time to develop the size and skills to be an effective blocker at the division one level.
So run blocking, red-zone offense, and the short passing game are the reasons that Herman needs another tight end or two in this offense. Any other benefits from the tight end are bonus points, which we will take by all means, but that is just like the icing on the cake.