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Texas spring practice: Tight ends overview

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Major Applewhite asking for different skills from his tight ends could unleash their collective potential.

Remember this? The promise it made may have been a year away.
Remember this? The promise it made may have been a year away.
Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

Departures: DJ Grant, Barrett Matthews

Additions: Geoff Swaim, Butte JC

Projected depth chart:

Position No. Player | No. Player | No. Player
Tight end 81 Greg Daniels OR 85 MJ McFarland |
Geoff Swaim
Flex tight end 9 John Harris OR 17 Miles Onyegbule

Storyline: Don't look now, but the flex tight end position is back after three years on the shelf. Now starring in the Jordan Shipley/Dan Buckner role will be John Harris, Miles Onyegbule, and MJ McFarland, who actually played a similar position at times last season

Harris didn't see the field last season for reasons largely unknown, while Oneygbule played in eight games during another wasted season, but failed to record a catch and suffered through an ankle injury that cost him several games.

Both now have an opportunity to get some playing time with the new-old-not-new offense, though McFarland may be the real player to watch -- possessing some capability of setting the edge in space as an H-back, McFarland flashed at times as an inside wide receiver and would have had a few more big plays had David Ash not missed him several times.

McFarland made a big play down the seam last season in the spring game. Will he do so for a second year in a row?

Battle to watch: If Texas plays 11 personnel, as expected, there will only be one tight end on the field on most plays, where a base personnel grouping in 2012 more often included an extra blocker in the form of a fullback or H-back.

Likewise, the tight end who ends up on the field will have to do more than just specialize. Among the two players expected to compete for the top reps at the position on the team, Daniels is a better blocker, while McFarland is a better pass-catcher.

The question then becomes whether McFarland can continue to improve enough as a blocker to supplant Daniels or whether Daniels can show more ability as a receiver than he did last season, which is a possibility after he missed the spring with a shoulder injury and then had to re-learn the position (he played there some in high school) with only his fall practice reps, though he quickly became the team's best run blocker at the position.

Overview: Texas only got 39 catches last season out of their tight ends, a number that needs to increase next season to get effective production from the unit.

For the spring, the position represents one of the biggest overall question marks on the team in terms of usage and how Applewhite will go about employing what he has there, which is probably not an ideal group, but rather a bunch of guys who currently look like specialists in an offense that will once again demand a diversified skillset.

Interestingly enough, the two sparsely-used flex tight ends may be true wild cards because both are known as good blockers at position that traditionally didn't get provide much in its previous iteration at Texas. The problem is that neither one is as good of a receiver as Dan Buckner was and probably not as good as McFarland either.

So, yeah, upon the shoulders of MJ McFarland does the upside at the position continue to reside. For the second year in a row, pretty much.

Now McFarland just may be getting close to being ready.

Couple qualifiers there still, but maybe they will start to drop away.