Forty. Twenty-eight. Twenty-four. What are those numbers you ask? Those are the amount of receptions from the tight end position in 2009, 2010, and 2011. For players like Brad Taylor, Justin Akers, Jerod Monk and Jordan Najvar, those numbers are much less than I thought they would be going into the preview. While the tight ends for the Bears have also contributed 4 touchdowns the last two years, their role in the offense has seem to be growing smaller each season, at least in regards to the passing attack.
Personally, I expect that to change in 2012, as Baylor has two players that have the ability to be very good all-around tight ends, at this level and maybe even the next. Both players are good athletes for the position with excellent size (Najvar – 6-6, 260, Monk – 6-5, 275). We saw both players at different times last year, and both are listed as co-starters. Najvar, a junior in his 2nd season with the Bears, had more receptions last year and seems to be a better receiving threat, while Monk is approaching his final season with the Bears.
These two players will be expected to carry the load again for the Bears, but I expect them to have a larger role with the loss of several explosive players. With the keys of the offense being handed over to Nick Florence, you will see less of the vertical passing attack that Baylor featured, especially last year. I think there will be more underneath routes and quick hits called. Also, you will see more man defense against Baylor this year.
In the past, coordinators didn’t want to run a man defense against us, because it would cause their secondary players and linebackers to have turn their back and run with receivers. This would cause fewer eyes on Robert Griffin III. So defenses would play more zone against us, to take away that aspect of RGIII’s game.
A good example of a team playing man against us with deep safeties is the last series of the OU game. The corners were running with the receivers, and with their back turned, Griffin was allowed to get to the corner because only the 4 rushing lineman and 1 linebacker were watching him.
With a much less explosive runner now at the quarterback position, one would assume that a man defense with help over the top will be shown more often against the Bears offense. This will do a few things specifically for the tight end position.
First, it will usually put them one on one against a linebacker. This matchup usually favors the tight end, especially on out routes and streak routes, as most linebackers will struggle to get out to the flat (something Baylor fans are more than familiar with in regards to our defense) and also to turn their hips quickly and run with a tight end already in full stride. I expect more of these play calls next year, primarily due to the matchups, but also because they are easy throws that Florence has shown a high ability to complete.
Behind the two top guys are a bunch of question marks. To bolster the position, the Bears converted sophomore linebacker Matt Ritchey to the offensive side of the ball. He is a good athlete that has good football instincts, but there are some big questions about his ability to block and catch the ball. In the spring game, he was matched up with the 3rd string defensive ends, and more than held his own on sealing the edge, but the talent he will face in games will be much higher. He also had a nice catch for a touchdown in the game. More than likely, he will not be depended on much this year while he learns the position.
Also joining Ritchey as a backup is Rhett Butler, a sophomore walk-on from Flower Mound. Butler got some playing time as a special teams player, but did not see much time on offense. He is another depth player.
With the 2011 recruiting class not bringing in any tight ends, the Bears have focused on several targets for the 2012 class, starting with some high caliber recruits. The Bears top target this year is 4-star tight-end Christian Morgan. The 10th ranked tight end in the class, Morgan is just up the road at Prestonwood Christian in Plano, TX, a popular recruiting spot this year. Morgan has stated the Bears are in his top four, and many believe that they are the team to beat to get his services.
Baylor has also offered several junior college players to hopefully play alongside Morgan and Najvar. They have ventured out to California for both of these prospects, as Gus Penning and Beau Sandland have received offers. Both are 6-6, around 250 pounds with good speed. More than likely, the Bears will bring in 2 players for this class, with one probably being a junior college player.
Current Depth Chart:
1. Jordan Najvar – 6-6, 260, JR / Jerod Monk – 6-5, 275, SR
3. Matt Ritchey – 6-3, 230, SO / Rhett Butler – 6-2, 230, SO
2013 Recruits (Offered):
1.Christian Morgan – 6-6, 260- 4-star (10th ranked) Offered
2. Gus Penning– 6-6, 245, NR (Juco player) Offered
3. Beau Sandland - 6-6, 250, NR (Juco player) Offered
4. Jeremiah Gaines – 6-3, 235 – 3-star (38th ranked)
5. Cole Hunt – 6-6, 230 – 2-Star (58th ranked)