Jermichael Finley

Tight end M.J. McFarland celebrates a touchdown catch in Texas’ 66-31 win over Ole Miss. McFarland and the rest of the tight ends have only contributed 46 yards and two touchdowns reciving, but they’ve made an impact blocking.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Take a quick glance at the Texas depth chart and you’ll see it’s a pretty decisive list. David Ash has become the unquestioned starter thanks to his impressive performances early in the season. The running back spot is listed as “or”, but opposing defenses will receive a steady diet of both Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown.

However, the tight end position is the anomaly.

D.J. Grant and Greg Daniels have been listed as co-starters for every game and their backups, M.J. McFarland and Barrett Matthews, see plenty of time on the field, too. Both Grant and McFarland have caught touchdown passes, while Matthews and Daniels have excelled in holding their blocks on the edge.

Having four players who are ready to step in at any time and perform has created a competitive atmosphere between the tight ends, albeit a friendly one. But above all they try to live up to the lofty standards of a legacy of Texas tight ends that includes NFL players Bo Scaife, Jermichael Finley and David Thomas.

“There is a lot of competition throughout tight end because we all want to meet the standard of Texas,” Matthews said. “We build to strive to do things right and to get a win each week.”

Even with four players contributing, their impact doesn’t jump out in the box score. But as a group they feel like they’ve quietly made their mark in the wins and losses column.

“For the first three games I feel like we have done great,” Matthews said. “There is still more to come, and we still have to keep on striving and doing our best and getting our ends cut off.”

But like Matthews pointed out, the tight ends are still capable of doing more. The coaches have been happy with their blocking on the line and downfield but their work in the passing game has left something to be desired.

Through three games the tight ends have only nabbed six balls — with five of those receptions coming from Grant — for 46 yards and two touchdowns combined. To put that in perspective, Mike Davis and Marquise Goodwin each eclipsed 46 yards in one catch against Ole Miss.

To be fair, the lack of production from the tight ends can be attributed to a variety of factors. The Texas offense has a large array of weapons, and the tight ends are pretty low on the priority list as far as ball distribution goes.

“They understand the nature of how we do things offensively and how it works,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “They understand it’s a matter of time and they’ll get their opportunities as well, but it’s a team effort.”

By far the biggest factor in the group’s limited passing production is the heavy emphasis on assisting the Longhorns’ domineering rushing attack. Texas is ranked 13th in the country with 258.7 yards per contest on the ground, and the blocking the tight ends provide on the outside is a huge part of that.

Entering the season, tight end was a sizable question mark. There was no future NFL standout like Finley, or even a player who was a proven commodity in the passing game like Blaine Irby was last season.

But the tight-end-by-committee approach has worked well, in part because the group was motivated by the criticism they received in the offseason.

“We took it as a challenge to dominate the defensive games, dominate the pass game and just to stay on the field,” Matthews said.

The key word there is “we.” The “or” may never be penciled out of the depth chart, but it doesn’t matter as long as the group continues to approach each snap as “we.”

Bo Scaife, David Thomas and Jermichael Finley are all names that come to mind when one thinks of the great tight ends to have come from the University of Texas.

Now, after a four-year absence of an offensive threat at the tight end position, the Longhorns are making it an emphasis in their recruiting strategy. Texas has two tight ends committed in its 2013 recruiting class, one of whom is 6-foot-6, 230 pound Durham Smythe from Belton.

Smythe is currently ranked as a top 50 recruit in the state of Texas, and is the No. 13 ranked tight end in the nation according to Rivals.com. During his junior year of high school, he snagged 22 catches for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

Most notably though, Smythe is coming from the same school as current Texas quarterback David Ash.

“It’s pretty cool to refuel and be back at school with him again, he’s a great leader,” said Smythe. “I only got to compete with him my sophomore year, so I didn’t play with him much, but I look forward to being under his lead and learning from him as a Longhorn.”

Smythe represented the US in the IFAF Under-19 World Championship this past weekend and was able to spend time on the Forty Acres in his off time.

“It’s a pretty rare, but cool opportunity to play for your country, and I’m enjoying meeting some of the players my age that will head off to college soon as well,” said Smythe.

Despite losing to Canada by a score of 23-17 in the gold medal game, Smythe hauled in four catches for 33 yards, and was named to the All-Tournament Team after producing seven receptions for 55 yards throughout the week.

Although Smythe has one more year of high school ball to play, he still expressed excitement about being a future Longhorn, despite growing up on the opposing side of Texas his whole life.

“It’s a pretty crazy story that I actually ended up here,” said Smythe, referring to his decision to come play football at Texas. “I had a dad that played at Baylor, a sister that attended Tech, and many of my friends are going to Texas A&M. So it’s weird that I actually ended up in Austin, but I’m happy to be here and play on one of the top programs in the country.”

Seeing the success that Smythe has had on the field, one question still remains: can he be the next wunderkind that the Longhorns are looking for at the tight end position? While Vince Young and Colt McCoy had some great targets at the end position to throw to, the exit of Finley left a hole in the Texas depth chart for several years.

During the last few seasons, Blaine Irby was plagued by a horrible knee injury that cost him most of his collegiate eligibility, while Greg Smith and Dan Buckner never quite blossomed into the players they were projected to be.

Smythe hopes he can help the Longhorns return to top form and end the search for the next great UT tight end, but with players like M.J. McFarland in front of him on the depth chart, he will have to prove his worth once he’s puts on the burnt orange.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy goes back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in his first preseason game of the year.

As the University prepares for its first chance to step onto the field after the 5-7 debacle, many of its alumni are already making plays at the next level. Possibly the most notable of which is second year quarterback Colt McCoy for the Cleveland Browns. Through the first two preseason games, McCoy has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL, and is nearing his college numbers with a 67.9 completion percentage. He tossed three touchdowns in last week’s loss to the Lions and has quickly adapted to the West Coast office under the offseason tutelage of Brett Favre. He did have a poor showing Thursday against the Eagles, completing just half his passes and an interception.

Cleveland will begin the season at home against the woeful Cincinnati Bengals, then head to Indianapolis to square-off against a possibly Manning-less Colts team. They then play at home against a Miami Dolphins team trying to find an identity. It is not out of the question that McCoy could lead a rising Cleveland team to a surprise 3-0 start.

Injury plagued cornerback gets giant second chance

In only the second preseason game, the New York Giants already find themselves with an injury problem. Starting Cornerback Terrell Thomas went down with a torn ACL, and will miss the entire season. The injury bug has forced Aaron Ross into a much more prominent position in the Giants defensive backfield. He has 140 career tackles and six interceptions, and the former Thorpe Award winner should see those numbers increase as he enters his fifth year in the NFL, and will again be a starter at cornerback for the Giants. Ross has been fighting injuries himself for the last couple of seasons, which slid him out of the starting lineup, and into the nickel package with Thomas going inside. Ross saw extended play against the Chicago Bears on Monday night, where he often went against fellow Texas alum Roy Williams.

Jermichael Finley recovered, ready for comeback

In Green Bay, Tight End Jermichael Finley was on his way to a career season before an injury shortened his season. Finley was the Packers leading receiver through the first four games of last season, and had already posted two 100 yard receiving games. But he injured his knee early in the fifth game of the season against Washington trying to make a tackle. He was forced to the sideline and had to watch as his team marched to a Super Bowl victory. Finley, though says that he is in shape and “a little slimmer, faster and stronger.” While he hasn’t been able to work out while rehabbing his knee, he has been studying film of other tight ends like the Chargers Antonio Gates, and the Falcons Tony Gonzalez in order to help his game as he prepares for upcoming season which is sure to cement his position as an elite tight end in the NFL. For Green Bay, he will be one of many players coming off injury that will have to reincorporated into a championship team.