2005 Position-by-Position Preview: TE

There is no question that TE David Thomas is tops at his spot in the Big 12 and that he'll figure prominently in the Texas offense this season. But how much of the playbook will be predicated around the versatile senior in 2005?

Thomas' 430 yards last season on 25 catches (No. 4 nationally among TEs) makes him Texas' leading returning receiver. His five TDs led all UT pass catchers in 2004, as did his 17.2 average among Horns who posted at least four receptions. The sure-handed Thomas can stretch the field with his go-the-distance speed and he can deliver bone-crushing blocks. He'll also play H-back, fullback, in the slot and at wideout. In short, the Mackey Award (nation's top TE) candidate will be all over the field and should figure more prominently than he already has in the offense, especially if Texas goes with the spread offense that it leaned toward this past spring.

How important is Thomas? Consider this: a subscriber asked me last September that if I was Bob Stoops, what would be the first thing I would do to defend Texas in the OU game. Would I focus on QB Vince Young or on RB Cedric Benson? My reply: the first thing I would do is scheme to take away David Thomas. And that's pretty much what OU did, spinning down a safety on Thomas and mitigating Texas' most consistent receiving threat. You could double-team the TE because the Sooners basically conceded the long ball (anybody who has paid attention to Texas football knows OC Greg Davis does not want to go deep more than once a quarter, and even less than that in big games). It rendered Texas one-dimensional as the Sooners stacked the line to corral Benson, holding him to 95 rushing yards as Texas failed to score for the first time in a quarter-century.

But that was last year. You have got to believe that a determined SE Limas Sweed, not to mention the infusion of talent with FL Jordan Shipley and WR Quan Cosby, will combine to share more of the responsibility in the passing game. During the first part of the 2005 season, Thomas will be counted on to pick up some of the slack for Texas' inexperienced backfield, logging more snaps at FB or HB. Head coach Mack Brown told me that he has never had a more versatile TE than Thomas. Given Brown's proclivity toward experienced talent, 2005 shapes up as a record-breaking year for the Longhorn TE.

Whereas most TEs tend to function as a safety valve in the passing game, Texas has employed Thomas as a trend-setter (especially on the road). His career-best 60-yard touchdown catch, for example, opened the scoring at Texas A&M in 2003, setting the tone in the 46-15 rout of the Aggies. He collected a 49-yard scoring toss on Texas' first possession in the 22-20 win at Arkansas. Thomas was also credited with Texas' only scoring reception in the 38-37 Rose Bowl win over Michigan.

Thomas earned second-team All-Big 12 status and first-team Academic All-Big 12 honors in 2004. His 11-yard TD reception in the Rose Bowl was his 10th career scoring grab, moving him into a tie with Kerry Cash (1987-90) on Texas' all-time list for a TE. With three TD catches this season, Thomas will move past former All-American Pat Fitzgerald who tallied 12 TD receptions (1993-96). His 754 career receiving yards ranks sixth on Texas' all-time list for TEs.

The only other question at this position is whether Texas can still be as effective in the two-TE sets with junior Neale Tweedie now that Bo Scaife has completed his eligibility after, what?, 11 seasons?

Thomas and Scaife accounted for 122 of Texas' 180 receiving yards in the Rose Bowl win and also combined for 778 yards on 51 grabs in 2004. Tweedie has the prototypical TE build (6-5, 267) and is one of the two or three guys that Brown couldn't stop talking about following what coaches considered a breakout spring. Teammates refer to him as "Two-way Tweedie" because he has seen action on both sides of the ball. In 2004, Tweedie was moved to DE to shore up depth at the suddenly-thinned position. He played in all 12 games, posting 10 tackles and recovering his first career fumble against Rice. This past spring, Tweedie demonstrated that he is a good blocker, is an exceptional catcher and has deceptive speed.

RS-freshman Peter Ullman came up with some eye-opening grabs throughout the spring and will compete for backup time with sophomore Steve Hogan. Sophomore Tyrell Gatewood also worked at TE and H-back this past spring.

Players report for the 2005 season on August 7.

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