NORMAN — Tell people Oklahoma wants more from its tight ends this season, and it immediately conjures thoughts of Jermaine Greshman terrorizing defenses in 2007 and 2008.
In an ideal situation, the Sooners would have another physical mismatch at their disposal. They don’t, but that doesn’t mean OU won’t use the position more than it did last season.
For one, all signs point toward do-everything fullback Trey Millard being used liberally at the spot. But another reason the position is being pushed hard since March is the kind of offense the Sooners want to become.
“Yes, we want to play with a tight end. Yes, we want that to be a pivotal part of who we are,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “I think it helps change some of your perimeter run game. As long as we feel the guys at that position will allow us to compete for a championship, then we’ll play with those guys.”
It’s doubtful anyone is going to mistake the Sooners for Barry Switzer’s teams in the 1970s and 80s. They still have a lot of very talented receivers and they’re going to get the ball.
However, running the ball the way OU wants to requires getting big men on the field.
OU lacked that ability last season. It quickly figured the young tight ends it had would not give them the physical presence required. The spot all but disappeared in the final two-thirds of the season because of it.
Getting Millard more involved at the spot gets him involved in more plays. Over the previous three seasons, that’s tended to be a positive for the Sooners.
“I knew what the position entailed and some of the preparation that I needed to. I was definitely prepared to take that role and wherever they put me,” Millard said.
But Millard, a senior, won’t be around after this season. The plan to become a more physical running team is a long-term one. Developing the tight end spot is an essential part of the scheme.
OU coach Bob Stoops has seen strides since the 2012 season ended.
“I like what they’re doing,” he said about the tight ends. “They’re doing a nice job and we do have them on the field more. Hopefully that will happen. We have them and they’re doing a good job and all of them are a little more comfortable and experienced in what we’re asking them to do and a little bigger and little stronger. You look at Taylor McNamara and Sam Grant, the two freshmen a year ago and they’re much further along from now than where they were.”
Does that mean 60 catches for an OU tight end this season? Very doubtful. But utilizing the position means running the ball more and creating more play-action opportunities. Tight ends seem to flourish most in those situations. The Sooners didn’t have many of them last season.
Perhaps, that will change when the season kicks off Aug. 31 against Louisiana-Monroe. How big a change it really becomes is up to the tight ends.
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