Redshirt sophomore Jerrod Heard’s switch from quarterback to wide receiver flooded the airwaves over the latter half of summer.
But Heard’s transition to a ball-catching position isn’t the first such change during the Charlie Strong era — senior Caleb Bluiett permanently moved to tight end a year ago, and he even flipped sides of the ball to do it.
He was hesitant to change at first. When head coach Charlie Strong first told him that he’d make a better fit at tight end before the 2015 season, Bluiett said his “heart dropped.” For a guy that “hates quarterbacks,” going from chasing them down to catching passes from them is a tough transition.
Bluiett registered 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss as a sophomore defensive end in 2014. Despite his initial objection to change, he reversed roles and snagged eight catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns as a junior tight end last season.
Bluiett enters his senior season at Texas as new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert enters his first. The new offense will be faster and more furious than in years past, a change that could favor Bluiett.
“We throw the ball a lot more, we run a lot more plays,” Bluiett said. “So hey, I might get a few more balls in the game.”
Bluiett has five career starts, but only two of those came at tight end. His career high for receptions in a single game is one – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any significant catches.
He came down with the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma in Texas’ 24-17 upset victory of the No. 10 Sooners last season. He hauled in a 57-yard
touchdown during the opening series of the Longhorns’ 23-17 triumph over No. 12 Baylor. But Bluiett’s biggest impact may not
show up on the stat sheet – not for himself, anyway. His time at defensive end taught Bluiett to become an imposing run-blocker, and blocking for a rushing attack that checked in at No. 18 in the nation last season demands him to employ his physical nature.
“I love the physical game,” Bluiett said. “I don’t mind hitting anybody, and I don’t mind getting hit.”
Gilbert said both Bluiett and junior tight end Andrew Beck will be very involved in both the running and passing games.
“Both of those guys are athletic,” Gilbert said. “They can do multiple things for us with their attitude and especially with their ability, what they can do.”
Splitting time with another tight end isn’t ideal for a player with less than 200 receiving yards in his career, but Bluiett knows that tight end isn’t a position where he can play every down. Instead, he’s fine with sharing the role with Beck because that’s the way Gilbert’s new offense is structured anyway.
“It’s not just built in for one guy, it’s built in for everybody,” Bluiett said of Gilbert’s new up-tempo offense. “I feel like we all understand the system. We’re all on the same page on that side of the ball.”
It’s not a side of the ball that has always been familiar with Bluiett, but it’s certainly one where he can use his 6-foot-4-inch, 258-pound frame to his advantage. Bluiett is the biggest tight end of Texas’ roster at that weight, but he’d be the smallest defensive lineman – by 29 pounds.
Bluiett was opposed to moving to tight end at first, and he still doesn’t have the lavish receiving numbers to back up that change. But he does have a new offense to work with, and that might be all he needs.