By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Whether Oklahoma is playing with or without a tight end is up for debate. Special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jay Boulware said Monday night the way OU used Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski earlier this season and the way they used Ripkowski and Brannon Green against Iowa State qualifies.
“Just because the guy had a fullback title and he also totes the mail for us, doesn’t mean that the offense hasn’t been playing with a tight end,” Boulware said. “The offense has been playing with a tight end. We’re in tight end sets. You talk to our opponents, they’ll tell you they’re in a lot of 12 (one running back and two tight end) personnel sets. Two tight ends, not just one. So we’ve been playing with one all year.”
The development of Ripkowski has been one of the positives for the offense this season. Before Trey Millard’s season-ending knee injury on Nov. 2 against Texas Tech, the Sooners had already begun using the pair in a fullback-tight end combination.
It’s continued in the two games since with tight end Brannon Green joining Ripkowski on the field in many sets. But it’s Ripkowski that’s grown as a skill player.
Kendal Thompson’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Ripkowski was the first time since the 2011 season opener that a tight end caught a touchdown pass. Ripkowski lined up next to the left tackle. By every definition, he was a tight end on the play.
He’ll play there more when the 22nd-ranked Sooners (8-2, 5-2 Big 12) face Kansas State (6-4, 4-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.
“Rip has continued to grow throughout the year. We’ve used him in a lot of different ways. You’ve seen us use him more and give him more plays at the tight end position than he has early in the year,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He continues to develop as an in-line guy. He’s a great fullback off the ball, a true fullback.”
Finding a true tight end is something OU has tried to do for two years. It’s very clear that in recruiting, OU is putting a heavy emphasis on the position for the future.
OU signed three — Taylor McNamara, Sam Grant and Green — in 2012 and has two more committed for 2014.
Boulware said the spot’s disappearance in the passing game in 2012 and most of this season has hurt in recruiting. But OU’s tradition with the spot helps. OU has commitments from junior college tight end Isaac Ijalana and Tulsa Union’s Carson Meier for next season.
“It’d be easier if we had an All-American like (Jermaine) Gresham still here, you know, about to leave. Those five-star tight ends see a guy that they can try to imitate, you know, and so that’s what they look for,’” Boulware said. “What we’re trying to do is convince them that, ‘Hey, look, you know, here’s a guy who was here in the past, in the same style of offense and they were very productive.’ When you get kids who are really smart, they see that. They see the productivity that tight ends have had in this offense. They know that our head coach loves tight ends, and it’s a no-brainer.”
But in recruiting, what teams have done in the past doesn’t always resonate. Two years can be an eternity when it comes to convincing 17- and-18-year-olds what their future will hold.
But finally getting the tight end involved in offense is the first step toward re-emphasizing the spot.
Follow me @john_shinn
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.