Mid-Spring Review: Tight Ends

As the fullback was pushed aside the way of the Dodo by Chris Petersen's, one had to wonder; how long would it be before the classic tight end position becomes extinct? Of course it's not going away, but in some ways the position has evolved to the point where it is nearly the opposite of its original intent.

Back in the 60's, players before Mike Ditka and John Mackey were no more than extra linemen at the ends of the offensive line. With the game now spread out so wide and so much emphasis has been placed on creating mis-matches in space and the ball barely in the quarterback's hands before it's thrown, the role of the tight end has become skewed much more toward the skill aspect of the position compared to the blocking part.

The tough part for the Washington Huskies in 2014 is parting ways with Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins. His production went down last season, but he was still one of the biggest mis-matches down the field in college football, and his offensive threat will be sorely missed.

The good news for UW going forward under Petersen? They have a lot of different types of tight ends that can mix and match in a variety of ways to minimize the loss of Seferian-Jenkins to the NFL.
Tight End:
84 Michael Hartvigson - Sr.
18 Derrick Brown - Jr.
82 Josh Perkins - Jr.
15 Darrell Daniels - So.
85 David Ajamu - RFr.

What have they done in practice? - Michael Hartvigson is the elder statesman of the group, and it seems like ever since the caught pass against Arizona that was ruled incomplete nothing has gone his way. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Bothell native has toiled in relative obscurity behind Seferian-Jenkins, mostly playing the second tight end in two-TE sets, acting as another blocker along the line. He's always a larger-than-life presence in practices, getting his work done with a smile. There's no doubt Hartvigson has what it takes to be a presence in both the run and passing games for UW; it's just a matter of how the Huskies want to use him.

Derrick Brown, ever since his move away from quarterback after the 2012 season, has seemed to be a man without a home. He was moved to Fullback/H-Back for the 2013 season but saw action in one game. Then the position was blown up, and the nomadic Brown had to reinvent his game once again - this time at tight end. There's no question that the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Brown is athletic enough to do something at the position - and he's some some brief glimpses at times down the field so far in the first two weeks of spring camp - but there's also no question that if he's to have any impact this coming season it will be as a specialized player, one that has a package made for him in specific down-and-distance situations to help utilize his strengths for the betterment of the team.

Josh Perkins was the first player talked about by Tight Ends Coach Jordan Paopao, and the former wide receiver has continued to evolve in the position. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound Perkins continues to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and while he didn't have a ton of catches in 2013, they were important ones; three of his five receptions were for touchdowns. He's emerged as one of the go-to guys at this position now for UW, something that might have been hard to fathom 18 months ago. Like Brown, he was kind of a man without a home when he came to Montlake; too big for receiver and an unknown quantity at tight end. To Perkins' credit he's worked hard since the move after the 2011 season to turn himself into a tight end capable of making a difference in the run game, and has continued that progression through the first two weeks of spring ball.

Darrell Daniels is another big receiver that has been converted to tight end. There was some thought that after Steve Sarkisian moved him in the middle of 2013 that Petersen might move him back as a bigger receiver, but the 6-foot-4, 241-pound Daniels has stayed at tight end for spring football. Sarkisian labelled Daniels the second-coming of former USC tight end Fred Davis, the 2007 Mackey Award winner. That's high praise for Daniels, but you can see it when he catches the ball that he is a serious threat with yards after contact, much like Seferian-Jenkins was. The major part is making sure the ball sticks to his hands, something he has admittedly been working on quite a bit. He doesn't look like an instinctive athlete when he's trying to catch passes, fighting the ball all the way - but when he's tucked it in that's when the fun begins.

David Ajamu is the heir apparent to Seferian-Jenkins, the player big enough to block but athletic enough to create mis-matches down the seams. The 6-foot-5, 244-pound Ajamu has lost weight since showing up at Montlake less than a year ago, but his work at Shelton as both an offensive lineman and tight end means he has the experience and understanding of what it takes to be a great all-around tight end. He's the pup of the group, which means he's still learning - and having just learned one system during his redshirt season, he's having to go back to square one with the rest of the group. That might be a little harder on him than the rest because he's never been through spring before, let alone one where he's having to learn new schemes, plays and terminology. He's had his moments, but the four players in front of him should be able to pick up the slack to give Ajamu plenty of time to comfortably ramp up his learning curve.

Where does the position stand after two weeks? - One thing about the tight end position; there's enough diversity of body types and athleticism that it's hard to really make rhyme or reason out of who lines up with the ones during the team period. That being said, there's no question Perkins has been relied on in both run and pass situations with the first team, along with Hartvigson. Daniels is right behind them, followed by Ajamu and Brown. The last two guys are behind the other three, but since the first two weeks have been mostly about fundamentals and getting a firm grip on at least half the playbook, a depth chart - or even a 'seating chart', as Petersen would call it - would be pretty premature. There's no doubt they have the bodies to go to two or three-tight end sets if they want to for the run game, and they also have the bodies needed to go five-wide and use tight ends as bigger receivers in the slot, or even out on the edges like Sark used to do with ASJ.

What to look for in the second half of spring - I think Daniels could really put himself in a great position for fall camp with a great second half of spring. He's got the body type, the physicality, the work ethic, and the mindset to be an impact big athlete out there on the field on almost any down-and-distance situation. He just oozes potential at this point. He's raw, but as Paopao has already said - he "has put out some really unbelievable stuff out there athletically."

The same goes for Ajamu, quite frankly. He is the other player that just drips with quality when you see glimpses of his talent in action. He's thinking way too much at this point, so if he hunker down and really get the playbook under control after he's done with his finals, he has a chance to really let his athleticism shine through.

Perkins seems to be the steady Eddie of the room at this point, showing leadership as an upperclassman and leading by example. Even though he was moved to tight end two years ago it seems like he's finally at the point where he's comfortable with his niche on the team and what he can bring. He will be a valuable crutch for both Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams once the team starts scrimmaging more and they look for outlets for easy completions and yards down the field.

I haven't really mentioned Hartvigson and Brown - but the truth is that all five of the scholarship players at tight end have a chance to separate themselves and get a jump on the competition as they head toward August. Paopao is the one holdover from Sarkisian's staff, so the continuity there should help the tight ends' comfort level in learning the new language of Chris Petersen compared to the rest of the offense, who have to deal with that and a new position coach on top of it. Paopao's year of working with the players in his room should allow him to reach those guys and get them prepared for what he needs to see - and that's a sizable jump in progress to help curtail the effects of losing a player like Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

They can do that, but they have to do it as a group - much like the running backs have to in order to make up for the loss of Bishop Sankey. And the tight ends are talented enough to get that done and have put in a good amount of work so far through spring football to put themselves in a strong position to show off that progress starting April 1st.

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