AUBURN, Ala. — After being the home of notable talents such as the late Philip Lutzenkirchen and current Cincinnati Bengal C.J. Uzomah, the tight end position has faded in relevance in the Gus Malzahn offense.
Since Uzomah’s final season in 2014, Auburn hasn’t had a player who primarily lines up at tight end catch a single pass. The traditional, hand-in-the-dirt spot has also become less of a fixture on running plays.
Those days might be coming to an end, though, according to Malzahn.
“Definitely, you’re going to see more tight ends,” Malzahn said Thursday night in his weekly Tiger Talk radio show appearance. “Like I told everybody before the season started, the more odd fronts we see, the more tight ends we’ll see.”
The first two opponents Auburn has played this season, Clemson and Arkansas State, primarily line up in a 4-3 defensive front. Texas A&M does as well, so the higher rate of tight end usage might start in Week 4, when the Tigers face Dave Aranda’s versatile 3-4 scheme at LSU.
Future SEC opponents Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Alabama also start odd fronts with three defensive linemen and four linebackers.
In Auburn’s 156 offensive snaps against Clemson and Arkansas State, Malzahn has lined up a tight end just seven times. Sophomore Jalen Harris has been the tight end for all of those snaps, six of which came against the Red Wolves in Week 2.
“Jalen‘s a guy that’s really come on and improved, had a good spring,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “He’s got off to a good start when he’s played. We have a lot of confidence in him. We recruited specifically for this position, this role and we feel good about him.”
FERG’S FILM ROOM: A look at Auburn’s tight end formations in Week 2
Harris is just one of four traditional tight ends on the roster following the recent departure of true freshman Landon Rice, who left the team for “personal reasons” last week. The other three tight ends are all walk-ons: junior Caleb King, sophomore Pete Berryman and freshman Jeff Ford.
Harris is listed as a second-stringer on Auburn’s depth chart behind Chandler Cox at the “HB/TE” position. He has taken multiple snaps this season behind Cox at H-back.
“I think as the season goes on, there’s potential to use (Harris) more,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Sunday. “He did some good things with his hand down (against Arkansas State) in some of our pro sets. He played even some H-back in the second half too.”
Even with the lack of scholarship depth at tight end behind Harris, Malzahn said he is confident in the position moving forward and signaled bigger things from them in the near future.
“I feel good about the guys that we have,” Malzahn said. “By the middle of the year, I think they’ll be very well noticed.”