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Returning two-thirds of the tight end production from the 2016 season might sound like a good thing for current Texas tight ends coach Corby Meekins.
The only problem is that production comes from one man, senior Andrew Beck. The other problem is that ‘production’ is just four catches.
From Bruce Chambers to Jeff Traylor, Longhorn tight end coaches have not had a lot to work with in recent years, nor have they had successes on the recruiting trail.
But Meekins has already made a concerted effort to change Texas’ tight end fortunes. Not only did Texas convert a wide receiver on the roster to tight end in Garrett Gray, they also brought in three tight ends in an attempt to make an immediate impact.
Meekins, along with Tom Herman and Tim Beck, snagged a former Nebraska commit in Reese Leitao and a former SMU commit in Cade Brewer to add numbers to his position room. He added a body with experience when Syracuse transfer Kendall Moore joined the fold. He has two committed in Malcolm Epps and Dominick Wood-Anderson.
Seemingly entrenched at the starter position is senior Andrew Beck.
“As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be incredible,” Meekins said. “We found out when we first got here, I didn’t realize how fast he was. He can really run. He’s 255 pounds. He’s strong as a bull. He’s got quick twitch. If you just look at the guy, you think he’s like most of the guys. He’s got a chance to be special.”
Much of Meekins’ confidence lies in Beck, but after that?
“We know Andrew can get it done,” Meekins said. “We’ve got to figure out who plan B, C and D is.”
With four possibilities for those three plans, Meekins options aren’t limited.
In no particular order, first is Leitao. The Jenks, Oklahoma native became known to many non-Texas fans following his arrest in February. As the spring went on, Leitao’s fate was not yet determined. In May, after his felony charges were reduced to misdemeanor charges, Leitao was allowed to enroll so long as he met conditions set out by the athletic department, including a two game suspension.
Leitao, who had 34 receptions for 423 yards his senior year at Jenks, has a chance to make up for what Meekins said “completely shocked” him.
“It’s not going to define him at the end of the day,” Meekins said. “That’s not who he is. He made a mistake. That’s not who he is. He’s proven it every day, and he has to prove it every day for the rest of his life or it’s B.S.”
Brewer, a Lake Travis product, is picking up the receiving part of the position well. Inside the box is where the 228 pound freshman struggles.
“Great route runner, unbelievable hands,” Meekins said. “He’s put on weight, so as he continues to grow physically, he’s going to be able to do more in and around the box. One thing he’s not is he’s not scared to mix it up in there. That’s allowing him to compete right now.”
The next name has an offensive journey similar to that of the entire football program. Moore is leaving Syracuse’s veer and shoot just like Texas parted ways with the offense after last season.
In a similar fashion to the 2016 Longhorns, Syracuse rarely utilized Moore throughout his career, totaling 150 yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches. He primarily blocked while playing for the Orange, but Meekins was complimentary of his pass catching ability.
Option four is the converted wide receiver, Gray. The 238 pound redshirt junior from Marble Falls has only seen time on special teams in his three seasons, but has been comfortable blocking in his new role according to his coach.
“He’s busted his rear end since spring ball,” Meekins said. “He’s taken to the position. We all know he can run and catch. Now the physical side of it is coming into play. He’s got a chance to be really good.”
After years of having a non-factor or just a blocker at the position, Meekins made sure to note that anyone who runs out and plays tight end will be able to do all of the things asked of the position.
“If you’re in, you’ve got to run the whole offense,” Meekins said. “We can’t really package a guy. If we’re going to package somebody, it’s probably going to be put in another receiver so you can get a true advantage in that way.”
Since this is not Meekins’ first stop as a Division I tight ends coach, he has an expectation of what he wants at the position. At Houston, converted linebacker-to-fullback-to-tight end Tyler McCloskey started for Meekins last season and brought in 23 receptions for four touchdowns and 233 yards.
Although McCloskey set a good standard for the position in this offense, Meekins expects the same, if not more, in Austin.
“Everybody that we have in our room can do what he does,” he said.