Inside the Gameplan: Life without a TE in 2019

Jordan Whittington (Will Gallagher/IT)
Jordan Whittington (Will Gallagher/IT)

Since Tom Herman came to Texas, TE play has been a major point of emphasis for the program. More than a few fans and commentators were disturbed by the offense’s insistence on heavily utilizing 11 personnel (one TE, one RB, three WRs) during the 2017 season because the team badly lacked a good blocking TE on the roster. Heading into that season the plan was to lean on team captain and prospective senior Andrew Beck in that role to lend a boost to the blocking schemes and help prospective starting QB Shane Buechele manage nickel defenses. Of course Beck, both starting tackles, and Buechele were injured for all or parts of the season.

In 2018 Texas again stuck doggedly to 11 personnel, but Beck was healthy for the entire season and the difference was from night to day. The base tight zone running play yielded 165 rushes for 725 yards at 4.4 ypc with six TDs. In addition, Herb Hand was able to add traditional power blocking schemes for the RB and QB, generating another 60 rushes for 279 yards at 4.7 ypc with three TDs. With the ability to establish the run game, the entire offense had a foundation to build from.

Both of these core run schemes hinge on being able to block a DE with the TE, either on a zone block (often with help from the tackle) or on the kick-out block on power where the TE is aiming to open a lane inside of the DE (or OLB) or otherwise wash him down if he insists on diving inside. The heart of the smashmouth spread Texas has run in years one and two of the Tom Herman era is having the capacity to run these two schemes and overpower opponents in the box. This is the reason for Texas’ heavy recruiting at TE, snatching up two commits and a grad transfer in 2017, another TE 2018 (Malcolm Epps, who ended up sticking outside), and two more additions in the 2019 class.

Andrew Beck, whose blocking on those schemes resulted in a spot for him on the All-Big 12 first team as a fullback, is now gone. His replacements consist of younger players that have not yet added the strength or savvy to help Texas impose their will in the box as a downhill running team. While Cade Brewer may figure this out for 2019, there’s not much depth behind him while there’s plenty of really strong depth at every other skill position on offense. Consequently, Texas may finally move away from 11 personnel for the 2019 season before revving it back up once Yancy McKnight and Derek Warehime have trained some new dogs out of the younger corps.

If Texas does move away from 11 personnel, that will have major ramifications for how the Texas run game looks in 2019.

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History major, football theorist.