Longhorn Position Previews: Tight Ends

As summer is officially upon us and the team starts their summer workouts, Burnt Orange Beat will be breaking down the roster and providing positional unit analysis for the upcoming season and a 2010 outlook. Today's unit is Tight Ends.

The annuals of Texas football history are not littered with All-American tight ends. In fact, only Pat Fitzgerald is credited with AA credentials and he did it twice in 1995 and 1996. Surprisingly, Texas' all-time leader in career receptions (98), career yards (1,367), and career touchdowns (15) and single season receptions (50) by a tight end never earned even an Honorable Mention All-American nod. Perhaps if they voted after the 2006 Rose Bowl when Thomas posted 10 catches for 88 yards to help win the national championship, Thomas would have earned a mention.

This year's group of tight ends does not have the look of a group that will challenge Thomas or Fitzgerald for top all-time spots. Prior to spring practice, offensive coordinator Greg Davis said about his tight ends, "I would say it is as big of a concern we have offensively. I am concerned about it. I don't know if we'll be able to find a complete tight end, the Jermichael Finley, the Bo Scaife, the David Thomas."

Spotlight: D.J. Grant

If there is a player who could develop into a complete tight end, it is D.J Grant. The Austin LBJ redshirt freshman is learning a new position after he entered the program as a wide receiver. Clearly, he brings plus ability in the passing game, but his run blocking has yet to be tested in game situations. Grant did start to show flashes of understanding his new position in the spring prior to spraining his left ankle before spring break.

Grant's injury was initially thought to be much worse than a sprain, so it is good to hear that he is running well in the summer workouts. Grant has also bulked up a bit to prepare for his rigors at tight end as he now weights 223 pounds.

If Grant (or any TE) can provide McCoy with 30 catches for 425 yards and 20 first downs, the team has to consider that a victory.

Wildcard: Blaine Irby

California native Blaine Irby was the starting tight end for the first three games of the 2008 season, before suffering a serious knee injury against Rice. Despite playing in only a little over two games, Irby still led all of the other tight ends cumulatively in receptions for the year. Irby is not expected to return to the field until October at the earliest, but any play has to be considered a bonus. Irby did show a good rapport with Colt McCoy early last season by grabbing a touchdown in the first two games and posting 10 grabs 95 yards.

Key reserves: Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, and Ian Harris

Given how depleted this position has been with injuries lately, all three reserves will likely again contribute in some manner next season. Smith is the elder statesman of this trio and actually has four career starts at the position all logged last year. Smith, who has also played all five offensive line positions at Texas, brings the most horsepower to the run game but is very limited in the passing game. Sophomores Howard and Harris have both struggled with injuries for the entire careers to date.

2010 Outlook

Every player on the roster at tight end will have eligibility remaining in 2010 and the team inked two tight ends in February (Matthews and Graham) while a third (Dominique Jones) could also get a look. It is unlikely that the Longhorns carry eight scholarships at the position in 2010 so it is possible that a position change or transfer could occur.

Blaine Irby, SR
Greg Smith, SR
Josh Marshall, SR
Ahmard Howard, JR
Ian Harris, JR
DJ Grant, SO
Barrett Matthews, RFR or SO
Trey Graham, RFR or SO
Dominique Jones, RFR or SO – could also move back to DE

Other Longhorn Position Previews:
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Offensive Line

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