OSU SPRING PREVIEW: Tight Ends/H-backs

CORVALLIS – Mike Riley wants to see increased numbers out of his tight end group in 2013. How will that be achieved during the spring? Connor Hamlett looks to factor into the offensive production in a variety of ways – will he have competition? Where has Caleb Smith been? Will a new GA make his mark on the program and "build a better blocker?" All that and more in this spring position preview.

The Good
Connor Hamlett was an unexpected weapon in 2012, with 403 yards and three touchdowns during his sophomore year, one of which was a game changer in Tucson that lead the Beavs to a 3-0 start and some recognition as a Pac-12 contender.

Hamlett has soft hands and speed, which typically is a recipe for success for a TE/H-back at the collegiate level – especially when mixed into a program with a well-developed aerial attack.

He will make his way into spring ball the starting H-back, as well as the only proven member of the tight end corps and the only one with considerable playing time under his belt.

But Hamlett is not the only junior OSU has at their disposal. A rather unheralded player at this point has been Tyler Perry, who despite being a relative no-show last season slates as a starting tight end on Mike Riley's spring depth chart.

Perry may not have seen much action on the field during the Beavs 9-4 run last season, but he is nonetheless capable of making some noise during the 15 practice long spring session. Perry (6-5, 250) is "smaller" in comparison to Hamlett and sophomore Caleb Smith, but look for him to make an impact as a run blocker early on. Perry is aggressive, and he works hard in the trenches in lieu of the fact that his receiving game lacks much pop. Perry's stint at OSU has been, however, pockmarked by nagging injuries and inconsistent play.

Riley and Co. have indicated that the success of the TE platoon moving forward will hinge on whether or not players other than Hamlett can step up and make plays consistently, and Perry is in a unique position here. Can the junior become the dual-threat blocking/receiving tight end the Beavs so desperately need to compliment Hamlett?

Or will that be a job for Smith?

He put up some serious competition for playing time last fall alongside Hamlett and the now graduated Colby Prince. Smith (6-6, 258) may well be the most well rounded player in the TE pool, and he played in all 13 games last season – largely on special teams. Perhaps the most notable characteristic of Smiths game is that he is quite fast for a tight end and skilled at maneuvering through opposing zone assignments. Anticipate Smith pushing for Perry's job over the next few months.

The Bad
Colby Prince graduates and takes some veteran leadership with him. He may not leave much to recover in regards to the stats, but it is hard to replace consistency when it comes to setting decent blocks in the open field.

The glaring issue here is the lack of a go-to-guy at tight end.

Theoretically, Hamlett presents the best overall option, but Hamlett was a bit of an anomaly in 2012 despite noteworthy contributions, and his blocking leaves room for improvement. If Hamlett continues to grow as a player this offseason, he may earn that title. But if he doesn't – Smith, Perry?

Neither boasts the experience Hamlett does, but one of them will be expected to start in 2013. Will either of them be able to present enough of a dependable target to the QB to – at best – draw attention away from Hamlett? There is some cause for concern here.

The Question
Who shows up bigger in the spring? Smith or Perry?

The Answer
Smith can/will be a great receiving tight end and he has the tools to oust Perry from that starting slot on the depth chart.

With significant work on his blocking both on and off the line, Smith could reach a tier that I don't see Perry hitting any time soon, making him an ideal mark for a starting gig. Riley and Co. were all a-twitter over this kid's ability to run and catch last spring – now he needs to prove he has the moxy to get dirty in the trenches and block in the open field.

As for Perry – I like him better as a run blocker and view him as the safe, efficient choice in the event that Smith doesn't show up in that department. But other than that, he may have trouble representing much of a threat to opposing defenses and is a less appealing target than Smith in terms of speed and catching ability. My bet is that Smith ends up the starting tight end half way through the spring.

Coaching
With former OSU center Kyle DeVan taking over coaching duties where Jay Locey left off, what might change?

Ponder the fact that Devan was a center and this should indicate a consensus on behalf of the coaching staff that the primary focus for their current slate of tight ends needs to be on blocking.

Who better to address a group of comparatively unskilled blockers than a former center?

In the Wings
Kellen Clute and Dustin Stanton are unproven at this juncture, but Riley seemed excited about their progress toward the end of the season. They may have called the scout team home for the vast majority of 2012, but given the somewhat uncertain nature of a tight end section that is relatively green with the exception of Hamlett, it's safe to say that spring camp could turn into a free for all.

Hayden Craig and Ricky Ortiz are both listed as tight ends, with Ortiz also filling a role as the third string fullback. Whether or not we can expect significant strides from these two walk ons is up in the air. In any case, Oregon State has no shortage of tight ends.

Oregon State Official Spring Depth Chart
Tight End
1.) Tyler Perry
2.) Caleb Smith
3.) Hayden Craig

H-back
1.) Connor Hamlett
2.) Kellen Clute
3.) Dustin Stanton


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