During the glory days of 2004-2008 the Texas Longhorns enjoyed a wealth of production from the tight end position. David Thomas, Jermichael Finley and Blaine Irby (who had the potential to be the best of the bunch but was derailed by constant injuries) combined for 126 catches, 1,560 yards and 10 touchdowns at peak production.
Needless to say, the production from the position since 2008 has been spotty at best, with a revolving door of players coming and going without doing much.
While at Louisville, Charlie Strong and Shawn Watson didn't place much emphasis on production from tight ends prior to 2013. However, this changed last season as Louisville freshman Gerald Christian tallied 28 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns. Strong and Watson made a concerted effort to feature Christian in the Cardinals offense.
Given this, it's reasonable to suggest the same could happen for Texas tight ends in 2014, especially considering the relative lack of depth at the wide receiver, even when the unit is healthy. The potential lack of production from the wideouts as a unit will have to be made up for somewhere, after all.
Regardless, there are three tight ends likely to see extended action in Watson's offensive scheme in 2014: senior Geoff Swaim, junior M.J. McFarland, and incoming sophomore transfer Blake Whiteley. The duo of Swaim and McFarland barely saw the ball in 2013, with only Swaim registering stats of 3 catches for 14 yards. McFarland had a solid 2012, before becoming an afterthought last season, and being used primarily in jumbo run sets along with Greg Daniels, who should have even less of a role in 2014 than he has in seasons past.
Whiteley, the consensus top junior college tight end in the 2014 recruiting class, has similar attributes to Swaim. The former Arizona Western College standout should be a quality blocker in the run game and able to set the edges -- which will be of a premium in a run-focused game plan this season -- but previous flashes of brilliance suggest possible productivity in the passing game as well. Whiteley's 2013 production statistics were far from spectacular, but those he posted as a senior in high school certainly were, suggesting in the right situation he could add a spark where a spark is desperately needed.
This isn't to suggest that Whiteley will in any way be a focus for Shawn Watson -- depleted receiving corps or not -- just that the instances where a tight end could provide some production might appear sooner rather than later. This is especially true if Swaim continues to struggle to secure receptions when he is called upon to do so, and if he turns in more poor games like his two-drop performance against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
It's also true if the run game starts to struggle, due to either injuries or an inexperienced offensive line, and a shift in focus requires more options to be used in the passing game.
Is another David Thomas or Jermichael Finley lurking on the sidelines? Probably not any time soon, but at least there's a little more promise in this current crop of tight ends.
The production at the position certainly can't get any worse.
Take that as the silver lining.