OSU SPRING PREVIEW: The Tight Ends

CORVALLIS – There aren't whole lot of questions hanging over the tight ends this spring – or are there? OSU returns three key offensive weapons in senior H-back Connor Hamlett and junior TE's Kellen Clute and Caleb Smith. Will Smith and Clute battle for reps in the spring, or is the pecking order set? Are there any diamonds that can emerge from the rough and make things interesting?

There just might be.

From this chair, sophomore TE Hayden Craig has a legitimate chance this spring at earning playing time over senior-to-be Tyler Perry.

It may not seem like a position skirmish that could greatly impact the team, Perry is currently the fourth option behind Hamlett, Smith and Clute. And Craig was a scout team tight end alongside redshirt freshman Dustin Stanton (6-4, 250), and he has work to do in the receiving area. His 6-3, 259-pound frame also makes him the shortest TE in the OSU arsenal, as well as the second heaviest.

But Craig's physical measurements could be a great tool in blocking for the run, something Perry has struggled with a times.

Spring provides itself as an opportunity for Craig to make a few waves and potentially earn reps in certain formations as OSU starts looking to better support a run game that struggled mightily last season.

Other players have a little more job security.

Hamlett has every chance to become Sean Mannion's favorite receiving target this spring. His 6-7, 263-pound frame makes for a great target in short, medium and long-range scenarios and Mannion has shown a penchant for finding the H-back when the going gets tough.

Spring ball marks the beginning of the senior campaigns for both Hamlett and Mannion –the month of April should see them create some early confidence and renewed chemistry with one another.

Opposite Hamlett, Smith and Clute combined for 502 yards and six touchdowns on 44 receptions in 2013 and, much like Hamlett, they have secured their spot in the pecking order.

Barring injury, Smith should come in as the top option at tight end, with the 6-5, 245-pound Clute a close second.

Smith has very quick feet for someone who is 6-6, 260-pounds and his receiving hands got better last season.

Both could do with some focus this spring on their run blocking -- being tall and lean doesn't necessarily lend itself to top-notch blocking up front.

And I get the feeling that their reps in April will center just a hair more on blocking than receiving.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Will Hopkins' injury concerns (toe) kept him out of the scout team rotation for a good part of 2013. Spring ball could present Hopkins with his first opportunity to show what he's made of as both a receiving option and a blocker on the O-line.


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