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Position Preview: Tight End

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With the advent of the spread offense, the position of tight end has been completely reformed. No longer is the tight end treated as a sixth offensive lineman who can occasionally drop out into the flat and catch a two-yard out. Instead, the offensive lineman is simply a wide receiver, only bigger, bulkier and, most of the time, better blockers.The tight end position is where you stash the athlete who doesn't quite fit in anywhere else.

And that is how we have been given A.J. Steward as our tight end, a player who figures to split out wide and rarely, if ever, line up in the traditional tight end position, off the right shoulder of the right tackle. Bradley Dedeaux is more of a traditional, in-line blocker-type, although he certainly is no Jason Dunn. Then you have the trio of freshmen who are the future of the tight end position, all of whom are relative unknowns as of this very second. There is also a tremendously large chance that at least one of the TEs, likely one of the freshmen, will be switched to defensive end. We aren't thin at DE, but we aren't overflowing with solid prospects either, and 5 TEs is an enormous amount of TEs to keep on your roster, especially for a team who (save an explosion of talent that forces Mangino/Warriner's hand) that will rarely throw two TEs out on the same play. I mean, how many reserve tight ends do you need, specifically when restrained by the 85 scholarship limit.

With all of that said, here is a rough look at the TE depth chart for the next three years. Tight end is the youngest position on this team, undoubtedly, as there is a RS Sophomore (Dedeaux), RS Freshman (Steward) and three true freshmen (Plato, Biere and Hawkinson). They have, combined, all of one catch amongst them. An 11-yard completion to Bradley Dedeaux against Florida International last season. That's it. Still, this group is full of potential and talent and all of that stuff SoulGlo has, save the physically insane athletic ability. Oh, and the expectation of a #1 pick in the NFL Draft. There's always that.

2008 2009 2010
TE1 Bradley Dedeaux (rsSO) A.J. Steward (rsSO) A.J. Steward (rsJR)
TE2 A.J. Steward (rsFR) Bradley Dedeaux (rsJR) Nick Plato (JR)
TE3 Nick Plato (FR) Nick Plato (SO) Tanner Hawkinson (rsSO)
TE4 Tim Biere (FR) Tim Biere (rsFR) Tim Biere (rsSO)
TE5 Tanner Hawkinson (FR) Tanner Hawkinson (rsFR) Bradley Dedeaux (rsSR)

--- Italics notes projected redshirt year...

Honestly, just to preface that depth chart, a large percentage of the 2009 and 2010 projections were purely conjecture. Nick Plato is clearly 3rd on the depth chart right now, as he was able to participate in spring practice unlike either Biere and Hawkinson. This makes Biere and Hawkinson the obvious redshirt candidates, and if Mangino is confident enough in Steward's development he could elect to redshirt Plato as well, although I would still bet that Plato gets in some garbage time and doesn't redshirt this season. I think by the sixth or seventh game of the season Steward should have secured down the starting spot, everything I've read about him from practice has been that he is electric from the tight end position and, once he gets the kinks worked out and fully learns how to play the position, he should have little trouble taking over for Dedeaux.

Player-by-player rundowns if you click through...

Bradley Dedeaux :: #87 :: rsSO :: TE1

Bradley Dedeaux isn't a great TE prospect. He wasn't out of high school, either, although he certainly was a good one. Ranked the 40th best TE in the country and the 15th best prospect coming out of Oklahoma (in a loaded Sooner State), he was quite a haul for Mark Mangino. But, and this comes mostly from rumblings and one-liners inserted into paragraph-long analyses of our offense, he isn't a tremendous receiving option nor a tremendous athlete. A really good blocker, a good hands guy and a good athlete. Nothing exceptional, nothing tremendous, nothing 'look-at-this!'. A really sweet guy to have on your team for depth purposes, because at the beginning of this season he is going to be crucial. He is, literally, the only experienced member of the entire tight end quintet. And not only in games. He is also the only one who has even practiced, before fall practice, at the tight end position in college. I mean, even Allen Iverson knows you have to have some practice.

So, Bradley is going to be incredibly important for the first half-or-so of the season. He will be relied upon to provide some consistency at the TE position while A.J. Steward and Nick Plato, or whichever freshman is chosen to play this year as opposed to redshirting, sees some garbage time action in an effort to speed up the developmental process. And then, once one of them (and, if I were a betting man, I would spend all of it on Steward being the guy) finally has the light click on and gets it, their superior athletic ability and all-around package will, likely, send Dedeaux to the bench as a reserve, a place where he will spend the majority of the rest of his career. Not to say he doesn't have a role. Even moving beyond special teams, which he seems an ideal fit for, he should see significant action, barring both Plato and Steward both exploding, throughout the season, most likely coming in as the blocking TE when it is obvious we are running the ball. But come next fall, when looking at the TE unit, Dedeaux's impact figures to be far less.

Dedeaux's career path, if everything goes as plan, will be quite an odd one. His playing time and performance will peak in this season, his sophomore year, and will then taper off as the more talented players come in and begin to supplant him, forcing him to slide down the depth chart.

Or, and this isn't all that unlikely, I'm completely off my rocker and Dedeaux is never supplanted. Maybe he'll go on to have a better career than Derek Fine, and be one of the best Kansas tight ends of all time. Maybe I'm completely underrating his talent. Hey, I'll be rooting for him. But, I'll take Steward (and at least one of the current trio of freshmen) to supplant him by this time 2009. And by then his slide will have only started.

A.J. Steward :: #11 :: rsFR :: TE2

Ah, A.J. Steward. Coming out high school, Steward intrigued me as a potential sleeper to lead our offense ast the QB position. He seemed an obvious candidate to redshirt, which he did last season, and then evaluate to see how well he had soaked in that year of instruction and development. And if the spring game was any indication, he didn't improve a whole lot. He looked rushed, unsure and quite unsuited for being a QB in the spread offense. And so, with the hindsight of Todd Reesing becoming a legend and the recruitment of Kale Pick (and other, higher-rated QB prospects Jordan Webb and Christian Matthews), I largely relegated him to career backup status. But a position change, for some reason-or-another, never ientered into my thought process. Obviously it should have, as once again Mangino has seemed to strike gold in a QB switching positions (Marcus Herford, Kerry Meier).

Every personal account I've read, every practice report, every coach quote seems to indicate one thing: this kid's got NFL potential at TE. He has never played the position before now, but he has all of the athleitc ability in the world, and is apparently taking well to the position. He had a minor injury that kept him out of some of last Friday's practice, but it doesn't figure to be serious and he is fully expected to be 100% by the season opener next Saturday. He is one of the guys I'm going to focus on next week when, while we continue with the ever-late position previews, I'm going to start doing things like Most Intriguing Players, Potential Breakout Players, Potential Disappointments, etc. Should be a blast, for reals.

Nick Plato :: #82 :: FR :: TE3

Nick Plato was recruited out of high school as both a tight end and defensive end, although he made it clear which he preferred. In fact, according to some recruiting updates-and-such, a big part of the reason he chose Kansas over other schools (including Boston College, Okie State, Colorado and K-State) was that we promised that he would be given an opportunity at TE first. Of course, with my earlier statement that at least one of the current tight ends will likely have to move over to DE, his past experience and big-time college potential at defensive end would make him the favorite. However, Plato has a leg-up on the rest of his freshmen tight end, and being an early high school graduate enabled him to be on campus and in pads for spring practice, unlike Biere and Hawkinson. This is a big deal, and will likely be the determining factor in him seeing some, if limited, action this season while Hawkinson and Biere enjoy the action from the bench, redshirting.

I don't know a whole lot about the guy, so that's about it. He, like the other two freshmen, could breakout and become real players, or they could simply be soliid and Deadeaux-like. Who knows? Although, I will say that Plato would make the best DE out of the movable candidates, and for that reason I still like him to be the one to make the position switch, preference or not.

Tim Biere :: #86 :: FR :: TE4

Here is what I know about Biere. He is a Nebraska kid who wasn't recruited by Callahan, likely because he didn't fit that whole mess-of-a-West-Cost-Offense they had up there in Linocln. So, he committed to Kansas. Then, after Callahan was canned, Dr. Tom Osborne himself made a play for the kid, because everyone knows how much Dr. Tom hates it when Nebraska kids who can potentially play Div. 1-A football doesn't don the red N on the side of their helmets. Still, he stuck with the Jayhawks. Isn't that sick?

But, moving on to him as an actual football player, he is more of a blocker than the other tight ends. He figures to be another candidate to move to defensive end, if only for his size (6'4" 243). Not to say that he can't catch the rock, he certainly can, but he isn't as athletically freaky as A.J. Steward and Tanner Hawkinson are, especially Steward. A solid, depth kinda-guy, in my estimation, who will likely never be a big-time player in this offense. The more I think about it, actually, he is likely just as likely as Plato to make the switch to DE. Don't know why, it just makes sense to me. In any case, he is a likely candidate to slap a redshirt on this season, along with Hawkinson.

Tanner Hawkinson :: #83 :: FR :: TE5

A kid from McPherson, Kansas, Hawkinson has a boatload of potential. He is another potential position switch to defensive end, although I think he has enough future impact at tight end to force the coaching staff to keep him there. Honestly, and a lot of this unbridled enthusiasm is unsubstantiated and simplly a gut-feeling, but I see big things in this kid's future. In my opinion, Hawkinson has more future potential to be a big part of our offense than any other tight end, save the athletic freak that is A.J. Steward. Of course, coming out of McPherson, he is quite raw, so he is a more-than-obvious candidate for a redshirt, but he and Steward could form a special combination in the future.

---

OK, that's all I got. The last two previews were incredibly short and unresearched, but they are likely redshirts so it isn't horrible, I guess (yay, justifications!). Tomorrow, I am going to try and pound out both slot receivers and wide receivers, then focus on the offensive line on Sunday and start on the defense on Monday.

ROCK CHALK!