Spring Preview - Tight Ends

With Washington’s Spring Football campaign nearly upon us, it’s time to look at each position group to see what they’ve done in the off-season. The tight end room is well-stocked in terms of experience, depth, and class balance. What Washington hasn’t had at the position since Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a dominant pass-catcher. Will one emerge this spring?

With Joshua Perkins accounting for more than double the catches than the rest of the returning tight ends group, it’s clear 2015 should be all about spreading the wealth and allowing some of the more talented receivers on the roster to do their thing and supplement a receiving corps that won’t get a needed shot in the arm until the fall.

A lot of that potential will have to be realized by the quarterbacks, who need to step up in Cyler Miles’ absence. If they do that, I don’t think there’s any reason why the tight end group can’t be an effective, efficient, and productive corps.

Here’s the position group heading into spring:
Josh Perkins (6-4, 226) (RS Sr.)
Darrell Daniels (6-4, 230) (Jr.)
David Ajamu (6-5, 251) (RS So.)
Drew Sample (6-4, 249) (RS Fr.)

The Incumbent: Perkins is the senior of the room, and one of the main guys Miles counted on down the field. With Miles gone for at least spring football, it’ll be up to Perkins to lead the way and provide stability - both in the run and pass game.

Making a Play: No one has ever questioned Darrell Daniels’ playmaking ability, even when he was moved from receiver to tight end mid-way through his true freshman season. In fact, if you take away John Ross’s offensive pyrotechnics in the few opportunities he was given to shine, Daniels had the longest scoring play of the season by either a tight end or receiver - a 68-yard catch and dash for daylight versus Oregon State. There’s no question Daniels year to shine has to be 2015; he’s simply too talented and too big a weapon to be ignored.

Finding a Niche: One player in this room that we just haven’t heard that much about the last year or so is David Ajamu, but this tweet by TE Coach Jordan Paopao shows the sophomore to be not just alive and kicking, but setting personal bests in the weight room. The Shelton native may be sounding the siren off the field (he's now at 251 pounds, up nine pounds from last year), but can he show the same kind of ethic on the field this spring to give him a chance at serious playing time going forward? He’s going to have to, or else he’ll start to hover in that category of player that has been around long enough to know whether or not they will pan out. Not saying that’s the case with Ajamu at all, but he did look up to ASJ when he was in high school and now it’s time for those comparisons to be resurrected if he stands a chance to make the kind of difference he wants to as a Husky.

The New Guy: Chris Petersen thinks quite highly of Drew Sample; the Newport star (and Boise State commit at the time) was one of the first prospects Petersen went hard after once he took the Washington job. Sample, known more for his blocking prowess while a Newport Knight, upped his stock considerably as an all-around talent by excelling at many of the non-padded camps held the spring and summer before his senior season. This tweet by Petersen showing Sample setting a personal best means Drew is right on track. He gained 13 pounds in the off-season. But did he learn enough during his redshirt season to bypass a player like David Ajamu? We’ll see.

What does spring mean for this group?: Much like the receivers, spring football will be big for the tight end room to get on the same page with the quarterbacks and take a big jump forward in terms of chemistry, timing, and everything required to make the passing game really go. There’s no question the Washington passing game struggled, but there’s a lot of moving parts involved. The tight ends are one of the few groups within the passing game that are balanced with numbers and size to the point where they can progress with a clear pecking order involved.

But with a real dearth of size at the receiver position, could UW Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith tinker a bit and pull a player like Darrell Daniels outside and have him run some receiver routes? Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he put that on Daniels plate, as he’s shown to be a bigger playmaker and a guy that screams out for attention from Smith when designing a passing scheme around the relative strengths of the quarterbacks and pass catchers available.

I also think the battle at the bottom between Ajamu and Sample is bound to be one where both fight tooth and nail to gain a coveted spot in the three-deeps. If you’re the third tight end in Smith’s offense, you will get playing time - even if a lot of it may be as blockers on the end or in some way to help influence the run game. Ajamu and Sample are both big enough kids to affect that part of the offense in a positive way while still learning the nuances of the downfield passing game.

There’s no question that all the tight ends are physical capable and athletic enough to run deeper crossing routes and create mismatches down the field - more than they were asked to do during Smith’s first year at the helm.

It sure seems that, with John Ross seemingly moved over to spend more time on defense, the Huskies’ pass catching options in spring are more limited than maybe they’ve ever been. This is an area where the tight end corps can positively influence proceedings, as well as provide big security blankets for the younger quarterbacks that will be competing themselves for a starting spot.

In many ways, how spring goes for the tight ends will be reflected in the same for the receivers and quarterbacks. It’s hard to get away from the connection, because the chemistry with all the groups is absolutely essential to not just a properly functioning pass game, but one that actually instills fear in opponents. With plenty of personnel issues to work through in April, UW feels light years from that hearty objective, but the tight end group does seem on paper like the one group coming into spring that should have most of their issues handled.

That should allow all the tight ends to cut loose, jump right back into fundamental work with ease and also give them enough plays to provide Smith and Petersen a complete snapshot as to what to expect from them come August.

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