Bubba Franks. Jeremy Shockey. Kellen Winslow. Greg Olsen. The Miami Hurricanes boast a history of NFL-caliber tight ends, and Clive Walford is looking to revive the NFL pipeline.
The senior has one final year in Coral Gables to impress, and his team definitely needs another season of production similar to his previous campaign. As a junior, Walford snared 34 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2014, Miami's marketing slogan for the team's season is "Renewed," focusing attention on the resurgence of the program.
Well, the Hurricanes offense needs to have a renewed focus on attacking the middle of the field, and that all starts with Walford.
Where Has Walford Been Utilized?
To understand how crucial the tight end is for Miami to reinvent its passing game, looking through his junior year is important.
Last season, Walford snagged passes on a total of eight routes, but he was most often targeted on misdirection play-action calls, where the blockers flowed one direction while he sneaked the other way. Or he was the checkdown option who found open space in the flat.
In fact, 12 receptions followed a fake to the running back, and four more were on arrow routes to the sideline:
|Route||Near LOS, off PA||Vertical||Split Wide, Curl||Arrow|
|Route||Stick||10+ Yard Out||Wheel||5-Yard Out|
Overall, Walford made 31 of his 34 catches outside the hashmarks, and his three remaining grabs over the middle barely made it past the line of scrimmage. Additionally, he reeled in 24 balls within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Yes, you read that correctly. A tight end made 8.9 percent of his total receptions between the hashes, and only 32.3 percent were farther than five yards away—that's it.
"There are so many options to go to—particularly with the weapons they have on the outside that'd you'd expect to see more opportunities in the middle of the field," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer said. "It's surprising, to be honest, because he has the big-play potential. I'd love to see what he could do when loose in the middle of the field."
To be clear, each marking on the following chart is where Walford physically caught, dropped or was missed by a pass, not the final distance of a given reception:
Walford was merely a short-distance option for the majority of 2013, but the 'Canes finally found him vertically during the bowl game. Against Louisville, Walford ran a beautiful wheel route down the left sideline and caught the pass 23 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
OK, that was down the sideline, so did he ever run a skinny post up the seams? Only one comes to mind, and guess what? It worked—yet again opposite Louisville. Morris connected with Walford 19 yards downfield just outside the hashes en route to a 32-yard gain.
Overall, while he has been a valuable option in the short passing game, Walford offers so much more than being a checkdown receiver.
Sure, he dropped six throws last year, but the Glades Central product kept the Miami offense going; of Walford's 34 receptions, 20 resulted in first downs or touchdowns. And if the Hurricanes send him vertically in 2014, he'll move the chains even more.
What's Next for Him?
As Miami breaks in a new quarterback, it will be a run-first team driven by the playmaking ability of Duke Johnson and the blocking of his offensive line.
According to Derek Stephens of CBS Sports, Walford "struggles as a blocker and has been plagued by drops in the past, but has the talent to be an explosive weapon at the next level."
Walford will be again tasked with sealing the edge on stretch handoffs, an area he must improve because that specific play can be so dangerous for Miami. With Johnson and Joe Yearby in the backfield, driving the linebacker outside opens the lane for a lengthy gain.
Clive Walford on why he's more focused for his upcoming senior season: “It’s my last one. I’m trying to make it my best one.”— David Furones (@DavidFurones90) August 10, 2014
But when Miami throws the ball, offensive coordinator James Coley needs to use Walford as a vertical threat—even if that means setting the tone early before essentially becoming a decoy.
"Establishing a tight end with deep-play potential can change an offense entirely," Kramer explained. "It can give your wideouts more safety-less throws, and yes, you can really alter the way opposing linebackers key on your backs.
"And when you look at Miami's sudden uncertainty at quarterback, Walford can aid these issues a great deal. He can improve all facets of production without really touching the ball."
The senior is listed at 6'4" and 263 pounds, so he is built to overmatch, especially smaller linebackers.
"If you match up Walford with an ACC linebacker—maybe with the exception of a few teams, starting with Florida State, you feel great about the chances of winning the one-on-one," Kramer said. "I'd like to see him start on the line and see how much they can stretch the field as the wideouts do their thing."
Kramer wants to see it happen, I want to see it and the Hurricanes absolutely must try it.
Otherwise, they are constantly relegating their tight end to a role that could be significantly more threatening with a simple fix. Don't avoid the play-action misdirection receptions; those calls certainly have value.
But Miami cannot repeat making the short route Walford's sole offensive responsibility either, because that, simply, is misusing a crucial part of its offense.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.