Post-Spring Review: Tight Ends

Starting Wednesday, Dawgman.com will be breaking down all the position groups to see where the Washington Huskies stand after the first 15 practices of the Chris Petersen Era. Up now is the receivers, a group - much like the quarterbacks - with heavy scrutiny placed on them in the post-Austin Seferian-Jenkins era on Montlake.

They won't replace a Mackey Award winner with a like-for-like, but can they reproduce ASJ's production as a group?
Tight End:
82 Josh Perkins - So.
84 Michael Hartvigson - Sr. OR
15 Darrell Daniels - So. OR
85 David Ajamu - RFr.
18 Derrick Brown - Jr.


What did they do in the spring? - Hey, a position that wasn't gutted by injuries or suspensions - a plus! Jordan Paopao, the only coaching holdover from the Steve Sarkisian era, had to be thrilled that he was able to get in a full 15 practices with very little interruption in terms of player availability. In fact he might be the only position coach given that particular luxury.

By getting in the full amount, Paopao - along with Petersen and OC Jonathan Smith - were able to see exactly what the strengths and weaknesses are of each player and how they can be best utilized in one, two, and maybe even three-tight end sets. Each player has a slightly different skill set that should mesh into a nice, cohesive unit. Don't underestimate their impact on special teams as well, given their size and speed.

Josh Perkins has taken over as the main receiving threat in the post-ASJ lineup. He only caught five passes last year, but that was second-most for tight ends after ASJ's 36 grabs. The silver lining? Three of those five catches went for touchdowns, including one against Petersen's Boise State Broncos in UW's home opener, so the converted receiver has definitely found a home at tight end.

Mike Hartvigson, with his size, has a niche as a great secondary tight end in the run game - but don't let that niche fool you. Hartvigson has always had solid hands, but has never really been utilized downfield. He only has one season to show what he can do in that area, and based on his work in spring he might be given a chance to right that wrong.

When Darrell Daniels was moved to tight end mid-way through the 2013 season, it should not have come as a shock to anyone. At 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, Daniels was an athlete too incredible to ignore inside and down the seams. Add to it his ability to run after the catch and none of us were surprised to see the 75-yard touchdown connection between him and Jeff Lindquist a week ago. Daniels brings a defensive mindset to the position, which means he relishes the blocking game. He'll need time to get good at it, but the ethic and want-to is there. What really improved over the spring for Daniels was his hands. He's always been a bit unnatural in his movements catching the football, but with two months of hard work with the jugs gun catching pass after pass his persistence has paid off. He made a really nice diving catch in the end zone during the Spring Preview from Lindquist - a catch that probably would have been 50/50 at best at the beginning of spring.

If UW fans are looking for the next Seferian-Jenkins (and really, who isn't - right?), David Ajamu is the guy that could fit the bill. In fact he wanted to be compared to ASJ while at Shelton High School and embraces the comparison. At 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds, he's got a little bit to become the physical specimen ASJ was, but that's achievable. Ajamu played both offensive line and tight end in high school, so he came to UW as a versatile player, one with solid fundamentals and mechanics. As you would expect of a player going through his first spring he was somewhat erratic at times - making unbelievable catches followed by drops on the simple plays. Time is on Ajamu's side, and while I expect him to be a small factor this fall his best football is still clearly ahead of him. This time next year is when we're going to be singing David's praises as the next guy to carry the torch for 'Tight End U'.

The last man in the mix is Derrick Brown, seemingly a man without a position at Washington - but give credit to the 6-foot-3, 255-pound junior; he's taken his lumps and come out smiling on the other side. It's doubtful the former quarterback will unseat any of the players ahead of him this fall, but he's put in some very solid work and he will find his spot within Petersen's system - whether that be on offense or even special teams. He caught a touchdown during the Spring Preview, and his athleticism is undeniable. After all, he was a quarterback - so he knows how to move around and play the game. Brown put in plenty of work this spring, so there's no question it could pay off for him down the road if the position suffered any unforeseen attrition.

Where does the position stand heading into the summer? - From a health and production standpoint, it's hard to think of another group that accomplished more than the tight ends this spring. They got their work in, and more importantly they got live reps in the system understanding the play calls, the checks, the reads, and how the offense is going to look at full speed. That's invaluable, especially under the watchful eye of the coaches. And Petersen has noticed them.

"I think they've done a nice job," Petersen said a week ago when asked about the tight ends. "I've been impressed with that group. I think they are very focused, I think they've made good progress. I think there's some talent there, and if we stay healthy that's going to be a real good group."

No doubt each player has things to work on. Perkins just needs to keep honing in on the details of the position. It's going to be hard to work too much on blocking without pads, but he may be able to do some footwork drills that get him in the right spots to be fundamentally sound. Hartvigson and Daniels need to become best friends with the jugs gun. They need to sent it flowers and treat it with TLC, because it is going to be their best friend for the next four months. Ajamu needs to continue to mature his game and strive toward consistent play all around, and Brown can bring a veteran presence and leadership to the room while the coaches are away.

What to look for in the fall - It may be a cop out to say this, but if the tight ends can get as much accomplished in the fall as they did in the spring - they will easily be able to match ASJ's 2013 production. Obviously ASJ was such a presence out there that his production was a small measure of his overall impact to the offense. This group will need to show that they can become competent blockers.

Because of the heath, depth, and quality at the position, it's very doubtful Newport's Drew Sample will be needed in 2014. That doesn't mean the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Sample isn't working hard to get ready; it's just that there's no reason to believe he should be needed this fall with so many upperclassmen ahead of him.

Defenses better not take too deep a breath thanking their personal Jesus ASJ isn't lined up across from them anymore, because Washington has enough athleticism and potential at the tight end position to cause defenses a whole new set of headaches.

But what is it they say about potential? Potential simply means you haven't done it yet - and outside of Perkins and his touchdowns in 2013, this tight end group screams out potential. They have the tools; now they have to go prove they can get it done like ASJ did before them.

It's a daunting task, to be sure, but one this group of tight ends appears up for.


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