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Oklahoma State Football

A Possible Shift Could Be Coming in How Oklahoma State Recruits and Uses Tight Ends

January 24, 2022
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THE OLD

One of the bigger criticisms of the Oklahoma State program from fans in recent years has been on the usage and style of play of tight ends or ‘Cowboy Backs’ as they are currently called in Stillwater.

The Cowboy Back position essentially encompasses tight ends, H-backs, and fullbacks all into one position and role. 

In theory, the position is one that is valuable, but it only works if you have a player with a very unique set of skills and body type and unfortunately, it is not one you can find very easily.

It needs to be a player big enough to help in the blocking game as an extra offensive lineman but also one that is athletic enough to run routes from on and off the line. They also need to have the vision and athleticism to operate as a fullback from the backfield. While Oklahoma State has had zero problems finding guys big enough or strong enough to block, it is the passing and receiving game that has lacked. The last true receiving threat at the position was Blake Jarwin, who had 41 receptions for 616 yards and five touchdowns in a three-year span in Stillwater. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s something.

In recent seasons, Jelani Woods had potential to be very good, but his hands did not serve him very well while in Stillwater. Logan Carter has never caught more than eight passes in a season and Braden Cassity has seen time on offense, defense and special teams in his four years in Stillwater. 2021 was the first time he caught a pass, and he was only able to get five of them.

During the 2021 season, we saw freshman offensive lineman Silas Barr move to the position to help with depth in the blocking portion of the role. We also saw freshman receiver Blaine Green make a shift inside to aid in the receiving game, which helped exponentially, as he finished the season with 21 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown.

As a wide receiver in his first six games, he had seven catches. After moving to the tight end role in his final four games of the season, he had 14 catches for 185 yards. There was a clear swing in production. This is where I think we could see a change in the future of the position.

THE NEW

You can essentially refer to the role simply as a ‘playmaking tight end’. It is a tight end who has more skills in the receiving game, especially run after the catch ability. There is a bit less of a focus on the blocking importance with these players. 

It is the same type of play that has torched Oklahoma State in recent years. In just 2021, the Cowboys faced three players of this mold in Oklahoma’s Austin Stogner, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar, and Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. In those games, the three players combined for 16 catches, 202 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Cowboys defense.

What Blaine Green did is most likely what the Cowboys will be looking to do more of. Basically, having a big receiver playing tight end sets up for mismatches, lining up against slower linebackers or smaller defensive backs. 

This also means less of the fullback type role and more focus on essentially being a receiver.

Instead of Blaine’s 6’1 frame, just imagine 6’3-6’5.

Not only is there a shift in the scheme or the plays called, but there is a shift in the actual size and build of the player too. And how they are getting them.

Instead of bringing in guys who are 240-250 pounds already and trying to teach them to run routes and catch balls, the Cowboys now seem to be targeting prospects who are 195-215 pounds with already developed skills running routes and ball skills and then bulking them up to 230-250 pounds.

In my opinion though, the biggest shift in how they are approaching the recruitment of this position now... they are putting a priority on using scholarships on them instead of just walk-ons. 

Right now, out of the seven Cowboy Backs on the roster, five are on scholarship, but two of them were recruited for different positions and one started as a walk-on. So, in reality, only two of the seven were offered scholarships to be Cowboy Backs. And neither of those have played, if at all.

As part of this new ideology of the position, we saw them bring Tabry Shettron in, who is the best prospect they have had at the position in quite a while. He is 6’4 215 pounds and had 15 touchdowns in his two-year varsity career. Mike Gundy said he thinks Tabry will get up to around 250 pounds. 

We have also seen the staff show interest in prospects like Austin Westlake’s Keaton Kubecka, who is in the 2023 class and was on campus for junior day. He is 6’3 190 pounds and had 714 yards and 12 touchdowns in his junior season. He has a frame that can put on a lot more mass, to where you could see him at 6’3 and maybe 230(ish) pounds.

The role of the ‘playmaking tight end’ is becoming rapidly popular at this level because very few defenses in college football have an adequate defender to stop them. They are too big, too fast, and have too good of athleticism and hands. Kolby Harvell-Peel is an excellent coverage player and was practically defenseless against Michael Mayer in the Fiesta Bowl. 

Kyle Pitts, Brock Bowers, Michael Mayer, Austin Stogner, and Arik Gilbert all fit the mold teams will be trying to copy. And they should. If a team has a player who can fit this style of offense and you have a capable quarterback, you can take an offense to the next level.

All of these players have the size to help in the blocking game and the athleticism to be good route runners. The No. 1 skill they possess though is the run after catch ability. They are also all able to run a route tree, meaning you can utilize them in the short and long game.

 
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