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Texas Longhorns 2009 Preview: Tight End

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Texas Longhorns 2009 Preview: Tight End
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Over the past few years, Texas has produced some very talented tight ends.

Bo Scaife, David Thomas, and Jermichael Finley proved their worth while playing for the Longhorns, and now they are enjoying careers in the NFL.

One would think that Colt McCoy would have yet another talented tight end at his disposal this season, but at the present time, the situation looks bleak.

Early last season, sophomore Blaine Irby surfaced as a dangerous pass catcher off the line.  In his first two starts, he hauled in 10 balls for 95 yards and two touchdowns.  In fact, he was the 'Horns' second leading receiver after two weeks of play.

However, in week four versus Rice, things took a turn for the worse. 

Irby suffered a season-ending knee injury, leaving Texas remarkably bare at the position.

The coaching staff was hoping for a somewhat speedy recovery for Irby, but they just recently received even more bad news.

Team doctors discovered some major nerve damage in his knee as a result of the injury, and he will miss the entire 2009 campaign.

Mack Brown is charged with finding a replacement for Irby, something he struggled with a year ago.

Because there were no proven receiving threats among the crop of tight ends, Jordan Shipley was often asked to catch passes from the position.

The Longhorns spent a majority of the time in one-back, four-receiver sets, thus eliminating the need for a tight end on the field.

While this strategy didn't fail, it wasn't the long-term solution the coaches were looking for.  Going in to the 2009 season, there are a few players vying for the tight end job.

The coaches were hoping sophomore Ian Harris would step up because of his receiving skills, but he has been battling neck and shoulder injuries since last year, thus making him a question mark going forward.

Sophomore Ahmard Howard was supposed to be Irby's replacement when he went down last season, but he too suffered an injury not too long after Irby.  The injury cost him the season, so he is still in recovery mode.

Junior Greg Smith started four games in Irby's absence last season, but he was phased out by midseason and replaced by four- and five-receiver sets. 

Freshman D.J. Grant made a switch from wideout to tight end this offseason, a move the coaching staff seemed to like.  At 6'3", and with receiver-like speed, he could potentially be the true weapon of the group.

However, Grant injured his ankle during spring workouts, which limited his reps in practice and put him behind some of the other candidates.

The glaring weakness with this group, apart from the injuries, is the inexperience factor.  None of these players have seen significant playing time and that will affect them them going forward.

Look for Texas to continue to frequently employ the four-and five-receiver sets this season, at least until a viable option appears at tight end.

If worse comes to worse, the Longhorns will have to line up another offensive lineman at the tight end position for running plays, giving their backs an extra blocker.

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