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Thursday, February 14, 2013
Position breakdown: Tight end

By Carter Strickland

AUSTIN, Texas -- For two years Texas wanted a tight end that could block first, seal the edge and maybe occasionally catch a pass downfield.

So, in other words, the exact opposite of what they had recruited at tight end for years. Which is how it came to pass that Luke Poehlmann, a tackle, seemed perfectly suited for the role at times in 2011. And why Greg Daniels was moved from the defensive line to the tight end. And why the leading pass catching tight end, D.J. Grant had 12 receptions last season.

M.J. McFarland
Tight end M.J. McFarland has improved as a blocker for the Longhorns.
These guys, and a few others such as Barrett Matthews, could block for that all-powerful SEC run game that never featured an individual rusher gaining more than 750 yards in the past two seasons.

Well, the seasons have changed around Texas and so has the offense. Gone are the days of the blocking tight end, which, by the way, is the exact type of tight end Texas recruited and signed in 2013 since the thought to go to the spread didn’t hit Texas until former co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin headed to Arkansas State. (Geoff Swaim, the 2013 tight end signee, is hand-in-the-dirt player who had all of nine catches in junior college last season.)

Now Texas wants a hybrid tight end, rangy and long who can block but also dominate linebackers in patterns. The kind the Longhorns used to have and utilized so successfully.

And there are a few players on the roster who appear to fit that description or are in the process of growing into that position.

M.J. McFarland: Texas could not put this hugely talented tight end on the field much last year because he never could get low enough to block. But what the 6-foot-6 McFarland does have is very long arms and a great frame to go across the middle. He is big enough to shield defenders from the ball, provides a great target for David Ash and has soft hands. Plus, now that he has had a year of blocking under his belt, McFarland can be squeezed in on either side of the line to either help out on a defensive end or get out into a pattern. The spread should greatly benefit McFarland who, in the past, has been a tireless worker.

Miles Onyegbule: He played wide receiver as a freshman before an injury and weight gain. Now more a hybrid tight end/H-back, Onyegbule is the most athletic option for Texas. He played quarterback in high school. During his freshman season he wowed during practice with one-handed catches and in-the-air skills. Again, translating his skills to the field has been an issue. This spring will be crucial for him and Texas. If Onyegbule is not ready to step up and take command of this new role, he will likely fall into the role of perennial backup.

Greg Daniels: Daniels mad the most memorable catch of the 2012 season when he snared the wishbone option throwback pass from Ash. But that was about it for highlights for the former defensive end. He is primarily a blocker and in an offense that is striving to not change personnel during series, it is unlikely that he will get much of a chance to be on the field. Now if he does improve his hands, Daniels could get playing time. He is also a potential short-yardage blocker. But, again, that is only if Texas does substitute players inside the red zone. It appears right now that Texas is going to stick with the personnel it has on the field from the start of a drive all the way through to the finish of that drive.

Geoff Swaim: A junior college transfer who does not appear to possess many of the skills Texas now wants at tight end. Although he did prove to be a decent route runner, he does not have breakaway skills. He can run through defenders, just not around them. Since his hands are reliable, Swaim might be able to work his way into the rotation. But since the offense is now all about having four wide, it might be hard for Swaim to make any sort of impact.

John Harris: Like Onyegbule, Harris fits into that tight end/H-back hybrid role. The junior has never been the same since a foot injury cost him most of 2011. He started that season as a receiver and came through with a clutch catch against BYU. He appeared to be moving up the depth chart in the fall practices of 2012 but never made an impact on the field.

At 6-3 and with a body that is growing bigger, Texas decided to move him away from wide receiver to more of his hybrid role this offseason. He has some talent and very good leaping ability. He is another player who could be utilized inside the red zone on fades or even higher throws across the back of the end zone.