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Texas tight ends earning trust

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Longhorns were ahead 14-0 on the Iowa State three-yard line with 2:53 left in the second quarter. Bryan Harsin, blessed with an embarrassment of offensive options, decided the time had come to throw some table scraps the way of one option that had been little used.

"With [tight end] Barrett [Matthews], that was something that we put together because you want to throw a guy a bone that has been out there grinding and banging his head out for a lot of games and just being physical but not complaining about it," the Texas co–offensive coordinator said. "So after that, we were like, 'Lets give him a bone here and lets throw him a touchdown.' "

Ah, if were only that easy all the time. Actually, lately it has seemed that easy a lot of the time. Sure there have been failures. It's hard to forget Kansas and its "great, not good" coach.

But since Texas' offense turned it on with two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Jayhawks, the offense has been able to pick and chose its weapons of choice. And now, as that offense heads into the final stretch, one choice it might not want to overlook is the tight ends.

Texas has suffered from a lack of production in that spot for several seasons, primarily because of a switch in offensive philosophy. For years, Texas recruited tight ends that were essentially just larger receivers. Most of the time the spread offense's success was predicated on having an extra receiver, not a blocker.

Harsin's offense calls for a true tight end that is equally skilled sealing the edge as he is crossing in front of the linebacker. When Harsin arrived two years ago, Texas did not have any player to fit that mold. Really it still doesn't.

Matthews, converted defensive end Greg Daniels, D.J. Grant, M.J. McFarland and even converted wide receiver Miles Onyegbule all rotate through the tight end spot in practice. But no single player has been able to stand out from the crowd, which is why through 10 games the tight ends only have 22 catches. (It wasn't much better last year as tight ends combined for 32 catches in 13 games, and that includes Luke Poehlmann's touchdown grab which was more of a tackle-eligible situation.)

So it has been a patchwork work in progress at tight end. And while Harsin might pass off the pass to Matthews as throwing a guy a bone, that Texas now has the ability to toss that bone and have someone actually retrieve it could be a step forward for the position and offense.

After all, Matthews wasn't the only tight end to step up in the Iowa State game. Daniels had two catches for 62 yards. He only had one previous catch in his career. Sure, one of those catches was a 47-yarder of the Royal wishbone fake. But Daniels was the only option on that play, leaving many to opine that Harsin is comfortable with him as an option.

Harsin even backed that up: "I have tremendous confidence in those guys."

The key there is that Harsin went with the plural. With the emergence of Daniels and somewhat to a lesser extent Matthews, Texas now has options. Again, not that Texas was lacking offensive options. But now opponents will have to prepare for even more, given what has been put on film.

And Texas can be more diverse, either through using the tight ends as a decoy or actual targets to free up the outside receivers as it moves through the final two games of the regular season. As for whether or not Texas uses those options, Matthews, for one, would like to get a few more bones tossed his way.

"We are still building and still want more things to come to us," he said. "We want to be able to lead the offense, but they still have to trust us and we are still building trust."