What we learned from spring: Beav TEs & FBs

CORVALLIS – Spring ball was a month of bumps, bruises and contusions for the Beaver tight ends unit. And an injury during the latter stages of OSU's spring session opened a door for some young talent -- did they capitalize? How good can Connor Hamlett be and is Caleb Smith ready to take another step this season? All that plus some nuggets on the fullback squadron in this spring analysis.

Tight End - The Veterans
Connor Hamlett had a tremendous spring session, and I am anticipating some explosive play from him in the fall.

Currently Hamlett is the best combo tight end/H-back that Mike Riley has in his arsenal, and he has plenty of on-field experience courtesy of the 2012 year. Impressive speed and soft hands characterize his game, and the junior tends to be a favorite target for both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz due to his 6-7, 264 frame and dependability as a receiving threat.

From this chair Hamlett could use some improvement in his blocking technique – he is not always a consistent force in preventing charging ‘backers from getting a quick bead on the QB. However, I noticed something during spring ball – Hamlett and sophomore offensive lineman Gavin Andrews are an imposing blocking duo when they line up adjacent to one another in the offensive formation.

When standing alone, both players are generally decent when trying to prevent talented D-linemen from getting quick penetration. But the combination of Andrews' size and strength, mixed in with Hamlett's ability to set a quick, albeit weaker, block and lead a tailback off-tackle is an impressive dynamic that I hope to see develop more during the fall session.

An unfortunate and ill-timed major league bruise/contusion during the third week of spring football left Tyler Perry out for the remainder of spring camp. Perry was listed as the No.2 starting tight end heading into April, and it certainly appeared as if he would make a push to be the Beavers' primary pass blocking tight end in 2013.

Yet it only took a week for Smith to start pulling ahead of Perry when it came to seeing time with the 1's and 2's.

Some quick hitters on Perry – he is a smart ball player who knows the team strategy well, and he is a talented blocker.

Perry does lack comparative speed and agility to the rest of the group, and his hands have been suspect when he feels a defender bearing down on him.

He is a strong blocker on the line, yet struggles to get an angle on quick linebackers when it comes to setting up after those first five yards.

Tight Ends – Youth
The younger faction of the TE corps prospered mostly due to the presence of Caleb Smith. His speed is a huge weapon at the position – one minute Smith is setting a quick block, and the next thing you know he gets his hands on the ball down the field for positive yardage.

We saw brief glimpses of Smith's potential impact last season and he continued to rally during spring ball, where he arguably solidified his spot as the No.2 tight end behind Hamlett.

Smith is a solid redzone threat, but his real strength lies in an ability to be elusive when it comes to traversing a defense.

His release off the line is nearly flawless, and he possesses an uncanny ability to set a strong block, and then dip into the middle of the field or the flat to pick up some yardage when the defense isn't expecting it.

One negative note on Smith – I'm not sold on his hands quite yet. Smith dropped more passes than expected during the spring. If he really hopes to take that step up and earn some coveted game time later this fall, those mitts will need to become stickier.

Kellen Clute and Dustin Stanton both had strong spring sessions. The injury to Perry was certainly unfortunate, but it offered itself as a golden opportunity for the young tight ends to snag more reps. It was an opportunity they took advantage of, seeing the majority of their time on the 2's for the last two weeks of spring ball.

Both showed that they could block steadily and make catches in the open field. At 6-4 and 6-5 respectively, Stanton and Clute have all the necessary attributes to shore up the depth, but when it comes to the battle for playing time, someone will always pull ahead of the other.

As far as spring is concerned, Clute was that guy. The redshirt sophomore is a fairly aggressive route runner when compared to Stanton – Clute will make contact with a defender before he makes his final cut in order to throw the guy covering him off balance and put a few more inches between the target he is providing and the defenders arms.

Clute also proved more effective in certain red zone options, using his height to his advantage in order to make big plays down inside the ten yard line. Stanton is not too far behind the pack in regards to talent across the board – the redshirt freshman just didn't stand out as much as his counterpart, Clute.

Walk-on tight end Hayden Craig has some work to do. Craig brought decent hands to spring camp, as well as the possibility of being a dual threat receiving/blocking player due solely to his size (6-2, 262).

The catch-22 here is that Craig is not particularly fast, and while his size may initially imply that he is a good blocker, I feel that the sophomore could have done better in that department in April.

Craig was relegated mostly to minutes with the scout team this spring. When he did get a shot, he occasionally struggled to keep pace with some of the easier throws, and was an inconsistent factor in the offensive scheme. I'm chalking up Craig's relative lack of success to the fact that he is newer to the program and still learning the ropes.

Should his blocking improve under the guidance of new tight ends GA Kyle DeVan, Craig may see time on the field in some of the triple TE formations OSU has been implementing in order to boost the run game.

Tyler Anderson's knee injury left the junior on the sideline for the entirety of spring ball, and in his absence we saw a heavy dose of Michael Balfour at fullback.

Balfour is quick enough on his feet to be a solid blocking fullback, and at 5-11, 229 the redshirt sophomore brings more bulk to the position than Anderson (5-10, 211).

Notes on Balfour are limited - OSU did not incorporate the fullback position into very many plays during the spring. From the little I could observe, I noticed that Balfour has good receiving hands, fair speed and agility and he manages to get some leverage on blocks when he tries to pave the way for the tailback.

He has yet to reach that smash mouth tier – that bruising mentality that Anderson exhibited last season. With Anderson likely returning in the fall, Balfour could very well end up with a roll on special teams.

Ricky Ortiz stands at 6-0, 233 and made a very subtle transition from the tight end unit (2012) to the fullback slot during spring ball. Again, notes are limited here - he saw a miniscule amount of time as the scout team fullback and showed that he could be a force in the future if he works hard on the basics of blocking and keeping proper pace with the running back.

If Ortiz sheds some weight and adds some speed between now and fall, and which point he may have accrued more of the necessary fundamentals for the position that will make him a more consistent member of the scout team's offensive approach.

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