Can the Longhorns 'flex' their muscles with new tight end plans?

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By Eric Nahlin, Inside Texas Recruiting Editor
Posted Feb 27, 2013
Copyright © 2014 InsideTexas.com


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M.J. McFarland

When we first learned the flex tight end was making its return, my reaction was that of disinterest, after all, if “flex tight end” can be manned by Jordan Shipley, is it even a real thing?

 

In a pass first, pass second, Colt improvise third, offense, the flex position became Alcatraz for overgrown wide receivers, rather than talented ones. The staff did a horrible job of evaluating the position and an even worse job of developing and implementing it.

There really wasn’t a coherent plan. If you don’t plan on running the ball, or are unable to,  you might as well scrap the flex for a more spread viable receiver. The position was a train-wreck that not even Bruce Willis in Unbreakable could survive. This was at a time when no perimeter players bought into blocking, thus giving the position little efficacy. I grant the point that Blaine Irby’s injury hurt the value of the position, but my points remain.

A lot has changed in Austin, and it’s turned my previously skeptical view of fTE into that of optimism. FTE!

Why?

With Texas showing the ability to attack the edge in the run game with both jet motion and pin and pull, the position could become extremely valuable.  Previously Texas didn’t have any edge pieces that were willing to sell out for their teammates. Pawns thought they were kings, but, since Darrell Wyatt was hired, the wide receiver group has improved exponentially in this regard.

While tight end development is charged to Bruce Chambers, two of his new flex pieces are coming over from wide receiver in John Harris and Myles Onyegbule. Whether they’re tight ends or wide receivers is a game of semantics when it comes to lining up wide and blocking down.

During the Bubonic Plague of Texas tight end play, the fan base would of been happy to have two overgrown wide receivers that were at the very least willing blockers. Now, with M.J. McFarland seemingly ready to emerge, Harris and Onyegbule will likely serve as role players.

McFarland, from a baseline talent perspective, is exactly what this position calls for, and he should blossom as readiness meets opportunity. By no means was he an accomplished blocker last year, but he was mainly attached. Blocking a defensive end is entirely different from locating and blocking smaller defenders in space, something M.J. should excel at from his flexed positioning.

Pin and pull was effective last year. It should be improved this year with a bigger physical presence in the slot.

That brings me to another blocking duty, bubble screens.

Motherloving, bubble screens. We all still see them in our nightmares, I know. With the personnel Texas can employ, I’m looking forward to our old friend. I think.

Imagine trips formation with Davis out wide, Daje in the short slot and McFarland (or Geoff Swaim) splitting the difference. The ball is snapped, Daje swings wide and accepts the easy throw, Davis and McFarland locate their targets in space, Daje makes the free defender(s) miss. Cannon blast.

In previous years these types of plays didn’t work well, but only because the receivers didn’t block very well, the ball carrier wasn’t the most dynamic, and the play call was as predictable as a ‘Mack must go’ rant. Other than that, the play had a chance.

All this (hopefully) effective blocking leads to easy calls to take advantage of teams overplaying tendency; such as slants and tight end screens.

Like you, I need to see this first, but if I squint hard enough, I think I can see the makings of successful usage.

Valued reader PFD receives credit for getting my wheels turning about the possibilities of the return of the flex position, but the coaching staff’s recent interest in Edna Karr (New Orleans, LA.) prospect Anthony Jones tells me they’re serious about employing the position in the proper incarnation.

You don’t use Darius Terrell types for your fTE position, you use Jermichael Finley’s for your FTE!

Now I’m not saying Jones is Finley, but that’s the template you look for in modern football. In the 6-5/6-6 range, Jones and Finley are both short on head room and predictably familiar with the hardcourt.

At their height, and McFarland’s as well, it’s hard to find players that have the movement skills required to play in the open field. Basketball helps harness the coordination and diagonal agility necessary to excel in space (ball skills are a plus too, unless your name is Lexi Wangmene). You can do agility drills to your heart’s content, but guys at their size that move naturally are born, not created in a training center.

This is very minimal tape of Jones, but it’s quite evident to me this is a player worth pursuing: http://www.hudl.com/athlete/1640266/#highlights/24157558

By early next season we’ll have an idea of whether or not the staff has the vision to pull off the flex position properly, but as of now, they appear to have every intention of making the switch work for the long haul, and this time with an actual chance of success.

 

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