Any Longhorn fan knows the fate of Blaine Irby. Irby was an up-and-coming sophomore who played in 11 games as a freshman and started the first three games of his sophomore year, catching 10 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns over those three contests. But in the third game, a Rice defender blasted Irby's legs, leading to a tragic injury.
That contact occurred in the third game of 2008, and Irby hasn't seen anything near field time since. Other injury casualties include Trey Graham and D.J. Grant, both of whom also missed 2010 with season-ending injuries.
Not surprisingly, the Longhorns' tight end play suffered as a result. The Longhorns struggled to get key blocks on the edge and didn't have a tight end capable of stretching the defense down the seams. The tight end position combined for 21 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
At first glance, the Longhorns would appear destined for a similar fate in 2010. After all, Greg Smith, the team's top tight end and H-back with 60 receiving yards graduated. But then there's that injured reserve pool. Irby has been seen running, and though he hasn't done contact drills as of yet, he's expected to try and make a comeback for the 2011 season. At this point, with two years of rehab behind him, it would be safer not to bet against him.
The return of both Graham and Grant should also help.
Other than that, the Longhorns will bring back Barrett Matthews, Dominique Jones and Ahmard Howard, all of whom played roles at the position in 2010. Matthews led the tight end group with 10 catches, though his exceptional speed didn't translate and he wasn't a great blocker. Howard was the exact opposite: he played in 11 games last year, including five at tight end, and served largely as a blocker. He didn't register any catches.
Later in the year, Dominique Jones began rotating through the position and he made two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown.
So the Longhorns bring back a nice mix of youth and experience. If Irby is ready to go, he'll supply a pass-catching threat Texas lacked last year. That role could also be filled by Darius Terrell, an oversized receiver who excels in the passing game. Terrell redshirted a year ago as he worked to add more weight to his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame.
Chris Whaley, if he should be pressed back into duty at H-back, could also factor in. He spent most of last season on the H-back two-deep but failed to really see game action at the position.
2011 Commitments: M.J. McFarland, 6-5 235, El Dorado
The Longhorn staff wanted to grab a pass-catching tight end in the 2011 class and found a good one in McFarland. The El Dorado product essentially played a jumbo wide receiver in high school, where he was a nightmare in red zone situations. McFarland looks great on the hoof and has outstanding ball skills. On jump balls, he does an excellent job of high-pointing the ball and getting up higher than the defender. At 6-5, McFarland has the length to add more weight in a hurry. In short, he's a high-upside guy.
Future Outlook: This one is uncertain. On one hand, Texas already boasts a number of bodies in the tight end stable. On the other, very few of those are proven players. The Longhorns might grab a tight end type body in the 2012 class, as it's never a bad deal to grab a jumbo athlete as they can project to many different positions.