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Andrew Beck excelling as move blocker for Texas after move to tight end

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Turns out the Longhorns didn't actually miss at the position in the 2014 class so badly after a strategic move.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There's a growing tradition for the Texas Longhorns of moving linebackers to blocking roles, from Chet Moss to Alex Da La Torre and now to freshman Andrew Beck.

An early enrollee out of Plant High School in Tampa, Beck was recruited as an inside linebacker, pledging in April of 2013 after picking up offers from schools like Florida State, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Oklahoma, and Stanford, with the Horns ultimately holding off the heavily-favored Cardinal for his services.

Since Beck did play some tight end in high school, there was always a chance that he could make the move to tight end once he arrived in Austin, though he made it through spring practice without making the move.

In an effort to evaluate the different skill sets of each freshman on campus, the coaches typically put them through NFL Combine-style drills. One of those is a cross-field catch drill that includes six balls fired at the player, requiring strong hand-eye coordination to catch them in rapid succession while moving.

It didn't take long for play caller Shawn Watson to pick Beck out of the group as the one with the best hand-eye coordination of them all, sending Watson racing across the field to head coach Charlie Strong.

"I started politicking right away," Watson said on Tuesday. "I ran up to Charlie and say 'Hey, 47 has got unbelievable hands, and he can run.' At that time, we were good at back, but we needed some depth at tight end."

Convincing Strong to give up a linebacker might not have been the easiest thing to do -- the Louisville offer clearly indicates that the head coach believed Beck could play the position at a high level.

But he obviously relented and Beck made the move to tight end during fall camp.

"He was really a perfect fit for what we'd like to do with our moving tight end," said Watson.

The impact at tight end didn't come immediately, however. Beck spent most of the first part of the season transitioning to the position as he contributed on special teams, playing in each game and making two tackles against BYU in that phase.

When the offense needed another move blocker to carry out the power running game the team used in the win against the Red Raiders two weeks ago, Beck was finally ready for his first significant action.

"We've grown him, we've given him more significant time," Watson said. "That's the first time we felt like he had an intimate knowledge of what we were trying to do, and you could see him executing it during the week on film. He's been really good since. His confidence level has skyrocketed since that game."

All that despite the fact that Beck dropped what would have been a big gain down the left sideline late against the Red Raiders from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. He also had a false start penalty and three below average blocks, but he had a 70% block rate with seven good blocks as well.

He's still adjusting to his work in the passing game, as he wasn't on the same page with Swoopes several times against West Virginia.

But senior tight end Geoff Swaim also had some issues with his hands last season before coming on this year as a reliable pass catcher, so there's plenty of time for Beck to work out those early nerves before he has to step into Swaim's role next season.

The big prize at tight end in the 2014 recruiting class was the top-ranked junior college tight end, Blake Whiteley, the Canadian who played one season at Arizona Western, but Beck has emerged as the impact maker of the two so far and looks to continue on that trajectory based on his blocking ability.

In fact, Beck got the start against West Virginia and didn't make a great block on the first play leading senior running back Malcolm Brown through the hole, but he did manage to keep his feet moving and screen off the defender after his initial miss.

In all, he had five good blocks and cut out the mistakes in that phase that hurt his grade against Texas Tech.

Because of that blocking ability, he'll have another chance sooner rather than later to show off those hands that Watson likes so much.

And there's been a trickle-down effect on recruiting -- the emergence of Beck has reduced the need for a pure move blocker in the 2015 class, keeping the staff from feeling a need to reach at the position.

To truly replace Swaim, Beck has a lot prove as a blocker, but there could be some upside in the passing game for him, begging the question of whether the Horns might have the ingredients for the first true deal-threat tight end the program has seen in years.