10, 12, 9, 12, and 11. What are those numbers? Those are the total catches by the Baylor Bear tight ends the past five seasons. From 2012-2016, the Baylor tight ends caught a combined 54 catches. Simply put, the tight end position was not a point of emphasis for Art Briles and his vertical spread attack.
With a new offensive system in Waco, the emergence of the tight end position is of key interest. The Bears are creating their own style, but will lean heavily on the Oregon offense that was created by Chip Kelly, and taken to the NFL at stops in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Protege Mark Helfrich took over at Oregon after Kelly left in 2012, leading the Ducks the past four season.
In 2016 alone, the Ducks tight ends caught a combined 38 passes for 525 yards and 5 touchdowns. This level of production was simply impossible under Briles because of system and the type of player he had at that position.
Quick question, who is the one tight end you think of under Briles? If you answered LaQuan McGowan, you are probably in agreement with over 80% of common fans. At over 425 pounds, McGowan was a guard playing on the outside of the line and used as a gimmick in the passing game. While McGowan was the extreme evolution of what Briles wanted out of his tight end, the rest of key players at the position continued the theme.
Gus Penning was 6-foot-6, over 260 pounds and a top-tier blocker during his three years in Waco. Trevon Armstead was 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, and initially recruited as an offensive lineman. Same with Sam Tecklenburg, who was a guard prospect in high school. Briles wanted another blocker to gain leverage at the point of attack for the run game, and to leverage in play action.
What Matt Rhule and company want is something completely different, and might be the biggest shift for any position group for the Bears. This is what new commits Bralen Taylor and Ben Sims have to look forward to. The third and sixth ranked tight ends in the state, both have exceptional height and athletic ability to make a different in the passing game.
They continue a trend from the 2017 class, which saw three athletes in Tyler Henderson, Rob Saulin, and B.J. Thompson all as possibilities for the tight end position. Henderson is the one that seems 100% certain to end up on offense, with Saulin most likely heading to defensive end. Thompson, at 6-foot-6, has great height for the position, especially in the redzone. Saulin, also at 6-foot-6, and Henderson at 6-foot-4, also both have great height and athletic ability.
The Bears might have improved on that first step last year for the 2018 class. Ben Sims was the first to pull the trigger for the Bears, committing on Friday night over offers from Arizona State, Texas Tech, and SMU among others. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Sims has the classic build for the tight end position. The 36th rated tight end in the nation, Sims had 30 catches for over 500 yards for Tom Clark High School in San Antonio.
Taylor brings even size and athletic ability, standing a true 6-foot-8 and just 220 pounds. Recruited as a wide receiver by Nebraska, Taylor is the 17th rated tight end in the nation. The 3-star tight end committed to Baylor Sunday afternoon, in a surprise announcement. Long and lean, Taylor has good speed for his size, and has the frame to put on more weight.
Baylor will continue to rebuild depth at the tight end position, with just Sam Tecklenburg, Jordan Feuerbacher, and walkon Jayson Clements listed at the position to begin the spring, Baylor moved wide receiver Quan Jones there later in the offseason. They also brought on former basketball player Ishmail Wainright to the position. Feuerbacher is the listed starter, with Tecklenburg backing him up, but that could change with the Bears looking for answers on the offensive line.
Taylor and Sims will be the next steps for the Bears offensive system, one that values and utilizes the tight end as a true weapon, rather than as a gimmick or trick.