The output from Georgia Tech tight ends this spring started with a bang but sort of fizzled toward the end. With J.P. Foschi moving on to the NFL, there were some big shoes to fill at this position and spring offered the chance for someone to standout, but no one really did. Foschi was a consistent blocker with soft hands. He was third on the team last season in receptions with 24 and added 2 touchdowns. But you still got the impression that JP could do more and was somewhat underused. In early practices it appeared that the offense would use the tight ends some more in the passing game but nagging injuries and a lack of a true threat to put fear in defenses seemed to have rolled those thoughts back some.
Senior Darius Williams is the top returning player at TE. He contributed to last year's offense with 3 catches for 37 yards and should probably move into the starter's role and hopefully increase that output several times over. However when I look at Darius, I see more of a blocking TE than a good route runner, although he'll make a catch once in a while when you need him to. This was evidenced by his biggest catch of the year: a 28-yard grab over the middle early in the second quarter of a tight GT-Auburn game last fall. I remember being floored by such a play where Darius completely left both feet and held on and I hoped to see more throughout the season but it never really happened. From watching Darius in spring, I think it will be more of the same. He'll surprise us now and again with a timely catch but I see someone else stepping up more in the passing game while Williams will remain valuable as a blocker. I'm a little disappointed though in the rest of the group behind Darius for not stepping up and giving the coaches a harder decision for the starting role.
Sophomores George Cooper & Michael Matthews both remain mysteries to me due to their up and down play. Cooper is the heir apparent to the starting role at TE after Darius but he never seems to distance himself from the others. He's worn some type of a cast on his arm so there's no doubt it affects his ability to catch. Even still, I can't really remember a time where I was really blown away by his ability to get open or catch the ball consistently. Additionally, players like Darius Williams, and Foschi last year proved to be much more adept at blocking. Cooper is a super looking athlete and I feel like it could all come together for him at one time but it hasn't happened as of the end of spring practice.
Michael Matthews is another player that could be quite a weapon with some consistency. Some days it seems he cannot hold onto a softly thrown pass in the wide open and other days he'll make a mockery of defenses. During one refereed scrimmage, Matthews caught a ball one-handed and disappeared from my sight on the other sideline and behind the pursuing defenders. Somehow he reappeared in a wide open race to the goal line and was ahead of everyone. Another thing I really liked about Michael is that he showed a particular mean streak this spring. No more Mr. Nice Guy for him I guess. He played with a real chip on his shoulder all spring. I often referred to him as "the angriest man on the field." Because of his solid build, good but painfully inconsistent hands and desire to make the big play, I'm pegging Matthews as my sleeper of the offense for this upcoming season. It's nice to see Matthews finally find a home after spending time at Defensive End and Fullback in his first couple of years here. Tight End seems like the most natural fit for him and he did play there in high school. He's a player you just can't take your eye off of too long. You never know when he's going to do something… either during or after the play!
In earlier practices I was gushing about the play of Gavin Tarquinio. Finally Gavin was healthy after three years of sitting on the sidelines from various injuries. It was nice to see Gavin making plays in the offense and generally having fun with football again. You could see him getting the fire in his eyes like a player gets when things start to click for them. Gavin looked to me like the best receiving TE on the team which is even more amazing considering he used to be an offensive lineman. With good blocking from Darius and nice hands and routes from Tarquinio, it looked like GT had a nice pair of complimentary Ends that would see the field together at times. Gavin's best highlight was a 50-yard TD catch and gallop through the deep middle of the defense. But as the case with Gavin has been, one injury hit then another. First his eye was blackened and swollen over from a hit he took in a drill. Later an arm injury found him. He ended up missing the last couple weeks of spring and never really got to show what he could do in some of the bigger scrimmages. Because of that he likely fell back behind the others on the depth chart and will need to start over in fall to impress the coaches and show he deserves playing time. I consider Gavin a deep sleeper for this season. We know he has blocking skills since he used to be an OL, even though he's now probably one of the lighter tight ends on the roster. Additionally, I was impressed early on with his ability to be a receiver. I just think he's running out of time to become a big-time contributor. It's difficult to jump so many people on the depth chart but Gavin showed some promise.
I'm not expecting any contributions from the only incoming tight end Jon Morrison. He's probably a bit of a project that will need time to learn what we require of the position. He has a big frame though and comes highly thought of by a trusted talent evaluator that is friends with our coaching staff. Overall however the future is pretty uncertain at this position. Recruiting efforts early on for next season already seem to be focused heavily on this position. This is a great opportunity for a quality End to sign up for. I think a lack of a true all-around talent at this position has kept it from being more of a weapon than it can and will be.