August 19, 2014

Wahooze Booze -- The 2014 Tight Ends/Fullbacks

Can Zach Swanson fill McGee’s role? (Photo Credit: Andrew Shurtleff)

Kendall: For all of his recruiting prowess - and it’s considerable - I think Mike London’s recruiting has failed the Virginia program in two areas -- the offensive line (which we’ll talk about on Friday), and at tight end.

Now, it’s totally possible that our coaching staff has been strategically de-emphasizing the tight end position since 2010, choosing instead to focus on recruiting big wide receivers and jumbo athletes, and then letting guys play / grow their way into the tight end position.  That explains how [TE-turned-fullback-turned-TE] Zach Swanson, [DE-turned-TE] Rob Burns, and [WR-turned-TE] Mario Nixon came to roost at the position.  But the fact of the matter is that we have just two tight ends on our current roster who were recruited to play tight end, and one of those spent some time at fullback earlier in his UVA career.

I’m not saying the handling of this position has been negligent (like along the offensive line), but it sure hasn’t been pretty.  HOWEVER, blind squirrels sometimes manage to find nuts, and I do happen to think we have dumbassed our way into a fairly decent assortment of talent at the tight end position.

Mike: I think it’s pretty interesting how much we’ve deemphasized the position over the years considering the pretty good run we went on putting tight ends into the NFL. While I was in school we were averaging one per season if you count Joe Torchia’s cup of coffee with the Redskins. (Jonathan Stupar, Tom Santi, and John Phillips are the others). I don’t think we’ve actually had a true tight end start to finish come through this program since Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman, both Groh recruits. Mike London has turned every potential tight end athlete into a linebacker or defensive end, see Zach Bradshaw, Max Valles, and Jack English. To me this idea that you can just plug in a guy at TE had really taken over the program until Tom O'Brien showed up, and it’s a miracle we aren’t in more dire straits at the position. All that being said, a good blocking tight end sure would be nice to help out the line.

Pierce: I’ve said this many many times, but anything that turns UVA football’s focus away from the tradition of solid o-line, pass-catching tight ends, and tiki barbers is a huge mistake. We saw it under Groh in a last-ditch effort to save a failing program by bringing in Gregg Brandon’s spread and we’ve seen it recently again, as Kendall detailed. Especially in a season where the offensive line is near guaranteed to be suspect (if not worse), having a solid group of tight ends is paramount to any sort of offensive success.

Mike: This offense could so easily go back to that kind of style too which is the most depressing part. I think prior to TOB (and that might not even have helped as much as we think) this offense was just wandering aimlessly in the wilderness with no real plan of what the hell they were doing. In the past few recruiting cycles you’re seeing them start to recruit OL and TE more consistently and work back towards a more traditional UVA style, which is to say having any style at all. Mike London has managed to turn something into nothing better than any coach I have ever seen, he’s like the anti-Tony Bennett.

Pierce: Matt Doherty comes to mind. But I digress. What are the positives we can take away from this unit? Swanson has had some solid contributions over the years and all reports point to him having a great rhythm with Greyson (his roommate). Rob Burns has great size (6-7) and plenty of practice experience - plus some definite blocking ability. Plus, we have a guy named “Evan Butts.” Hahaha. Butts.

Remember this guy? Good times.

Mike: Butts at tight end is a 4th grade gold mine.

Kendall: Black Swan (Zach Swanson) is a decent receiver, a decent blocker, a decent overall tight end. Solid, nothing to write home about. Rob Burns is big, offers an inviting red zone target, and seems to relish the blocking duties inherent to the position. Those two guys will see the huge majority of playing time at the position. Behind them... well, there's a true freshman, and then zilcho.

Pierce: So where does that leave this unit with a booze metaphor? To me, they’re vodka. Vodka is regularly used, rarely celebrated, often overlooked, and typically unremarkable. Like most spirits, getting some high-quality vodka can lead to some wonderful libations - but largely, no one cares much about what kind of vodka is at the party - as long as there is some. For most football teams, having some standard-quality production from the TEs and FBs is all they can hope for. But, as we’ve seen, UVA always does better when the unit is a clear focus in the offense. This year’s group is missing star power, but hopefully that doesn’t translate to unfavorable results.

As long as it’s not Aristocrat.

Kendall: I like it. Are you including fullbacks in that? Because I love fullbacks.

Mike: We forgot to talk about the fullbacks.

Pierce: See, they’re forgettable, just like their booze. At fullback, Connor Wingo-Reeves has things pretty much locked up. He played in every game as a truth frosh last year and while I’m sure Vincent Croce will be used, Wingo-Reeves should be the go-to guy to lead the blocking for Parks & Co. You know, if we’re not running a spread formation.

Mike: Croce is a weird case. He’s a converted DT playing fullback. Apparently he is going to get some run at tight end as well. The kid obviously is a pretty good athlete, but having battled weight problems (he couldn’t add enough to play at the D1 level) and trying to make it work on the d-line for so long, throwing him in at FB or TE and expecting a world beater is clearly unreasonable. I think CWR is clearly our starter at FB. Kendall loves the guy and I’m sure is about to swoon.


Kendall: Not so fast. Yes, I love Cunnilingus Reeves (try saying "Connor Wingo-Reeves" three times fast, and see what you get). And YES, I love fullbacks. But it sounds like the UVA offense in 2014 is going to look like this: three-wide, with a split backfield (think KP and Smoke both in the game at the same time). So that means no TEs and no FBs on the field at all. It's a spread look, but we'll run our standard popgun bullshit pro-style plays. And it'll be awful. Pass the vodka, I'm ready to stir up a Kamikaze.

Wahooze note: YES, we are waaaaaay behind schedule on these. C'mon, you could've predicted that! But we'll do our best to finish the series before the season starts. Buckle up.

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