BF.C Fall Camp Preview: TE's and HB's

CORVALLIS – Oregon State will head into the fall with six tight ends vying to fill two available slots. With a starting H-back likely set, will credence be given to size or speed when selecting the TE starter? On paper, it looks easy, but BF.C digs deeper and takes a close look at the roots of the Oregon State tight end situation in 2013.

With the exception of the fullback slot, the tight end designation was the only offensive position that received no recruiting love in the 2013 draft class for OSU.

That might be due to confidence in a full cupboard.

Spotlight:
That confidence is not due solely to the talent of H-Back Connor Hamlett, a 6-7 option that proved to be electric at times in 2012 with 32 receptions for 403 yards and 3 TD's.

The 264-pounder is expected to light things up even more so this season. Hamlett is a complete player – a balance of size, agility, strength in the trenches and good hands. It's a rare package at the collegiate level and widely coveted by offensive coordinators.

In Mike Riley's typically pro-style offensive patterns, the H-back is commonly used as the more versatile receiving/blocking option over the standard TE. One moment he is spotted setting a block, the next he is cruising along the sideline for a first down and then some.

Hamlett was particularly effective against Arizona and Cal in 2012, whose defenses focused mostly on swarming the ball carrier as opposed to winning one-on-one matchups in the secondary.

And Smaller Pac-12 defenses that ultimately live and die by this mentality will have a very hard time coping with the physical upside of Hamlett in 2013 – the junior is certainly a task to bring down despite being the lengthiest target on the field at any given moment, and he lowers his shoulder into defenders, giving him that extra yard or two on many of his receptions.

In my view, Hamlett is capable of effectively doubling last season's production in 2013. That being said, he will need to work his tail off to achieve those numbers. Nobody gets a free ride, and Hamlett has to continue to prove himself just like the rest of the guys that Kyle DeVan – a former OSU o-lineman turned GA - took charge of at the onset of spring workouts.

Strategy Queries:
With the Colby Prince gone after what felt like a decade in the orange and black, who will be the man to take his spot?

The real question looking ahead to fall is this – will Riley and Co. opt to reinforce the running game or the passing game with their allocation of the starting TE?

Hamlett gets the nod at H-back – no question about it. But who's the tight end?

That battle is between Tyler Perry (JR, 6-5, 250) and Caleb Smith (SO, 6-6 258).

Name as starter the athletic and increasingly sure-handed Smith, and you add some juice to the passing game alongside Connor Hamlett -- especially on third down and midrange scenarios.

Chose Perry, however, and the Beavs potentially increase the ability of their run game to push for more yardage on first and second down, thusly opening up the options in the passing game.

BEAR IN MIND that Perry has struggled to stay healthy and suffered a bruise/contusion during the spring. But if Smith is seen as the better option – with the speed and big play ability comes a smaller size and the challenge of gaining extra yardage on the ground when it potentially counts most.

Indeed, Smith needs to hone his blocking before he can be considered a dual threat. But man oh man, he is lightning quick for a guy his size.

In fact, Smith is almost too fast to be taken seriously as a tight end. The times I spied him on the field during the 2012 regular season – which was rare – he navigated the field like a ghost passing through walls.

Defenders just lose him somehow. Perhaps because he isn't a threat, yet. And frankly, neither is Perry – from this chair, neither have proven their mettle enough to gain the starting nod. One way or another, that changes this fall camp.

PERRY HAS BEEN in the rotation for over three years to varying degrees of utility. He knows the strategies well and has some solid blocking skills. He isn't going to light up the score board, but he is stocky and aggressive enough to pave the way for tailbacks to go for six.

Yet there is the chance that a young, fresh offensive weapon like Smith could be a missing link to the passing game. Questions still loom regarding who will take over some of the production responsibilities now that Markus Wheaton is in Pittsburgh – and nobody ever said it had to be a wide receiver who shouldered that charge.

The Young Guys:
Kellen Clute (RS SO, 6-5, 230) and Dustin Stanton (RS FR, 6-4, 245) remain under the radar of most fans and pundits. Most of the reps the duo saw in the spring were with the 2's and scout team, where Clute displayed his speed and closing capabilities, and Stanton showed off his soft hands.

Both would benefit greatly from increasing their blocking prowess under the watchful eye of Devan and more time studying under the aforementioned player trio.

Stanton and Clute have a lot of potential, but unless they've made a huge jump since the spring, or injuries bite, I see them behind the other three on the depth chart and focused on continued development headed into 2013.

Hayden Craig, who stands at 6-2, 262 is the shortest receiver in the tight end corps, and also one of the slowest. He has the look of a converted O-lineman who happens to be able to catch some zingers in the open field. The walk-on from Dayton, OR is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to challenging his fellow TE's for playing time, mostly due to his lack of comparative speed.

To date he hasn't seen much action. However when guys get hurt, knees get bruised, hands get broken etc. – you can bet Riley and Co. are appreciative if nothing else of the depth Craig offers.


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