Texas A&M’s spread offense is built on space and speed. The Aggies often run out four or five wide receivers. Having more than two players in the backfield is a rarity. With the system in place, tight ends fell out of favor in College Station.
But across the sport, tight ends have become versatile weapons. Alabama used O.J. Howard as a receiving threat in the past two national championship games. Tight end Evan Engram led Ole Miss’ spread offense in receiving yards. At the next level, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham helped reshape the position.
Tight ends have evolved into perfect hybrids, either able to go out and catch passes or work as a sixth down lineman. Especially with the vast majority of players who created the Aggies’ receiving production heading for the NFL Draft, Texas A&M is finally warming to the change.
“That’s a direction we want to go,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said on National Signing Day. “We want to give ourselves more options and more blocking and pass catching options.”
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It’s been a while since tight end was a priority in College Station. Before the 2017 cycle, the Aggies signed three tight ends in five recruiting classes under Sumlin. Alonzo Williams converted into a defensive lineman, and 4-star prospect Jordan Davis transferred. Only junior college transfer Cameron Clear started and finished his career as a tight end.
Tanner Schorp — a former defensive line walk-on — and Virginia Tech grad transfer Kalvin Cline were the top tight end options in 2016. They combined for a whopping two catches. Both came against New Mexico State in a minor nonconference game.
However, the Aggies made tight end a priority in their 2017 recruiting class.
Texas A&M signed 3-star tight ends Camron Horry and Keynel McZeal on National Signing Day. They have different playing strengths, which should emphasize the versatility the position embraced the past few years.
Horry should be a familiar name to Texas sports fans. His father, Robert Horry, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” after playing for seven championship teams with the Rockets, Spurs and Lakers. Camron is a bulky 260 pounds as an 18-year-old and could be able to add weight once he arrives in June. Horry adds value as a dynamic blocker with the ability to make plays as a receiver.
“He’s what we needed,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “We’ve got a guy who we can attach to our O-line and create a few more gaps for the defense to stop. We haven’t had a guy like that, so he was huge.”
On the other end, McZeal is a dynamic receiving option. In a standout high schol senior year, McZeal caught 34 passes for 537 yards and 7 touchdowns. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds by Texas A&M, McZeal was recruited as a wide receiver by other schools. He should be able to do considerable damage in the seam next season.
The tight end prospects, Sumlin said, “are very athletic. It’s important with the two guys who are tight end body prospects that they give us options offensively.”
Embracing the position will pay off handsomely for Mazzone and Sumlin in the long run. With questions at quarterback, the Aggies will lean on the run game more than ever. Horry’s physical frame will create extra openings, while McZeal will be a safety blanket for whichever quarterback comes next.
Six-yard seam routes and augmented blocking schemes might not sound as exciting as Trevor Knight breaking off for 60-yard runs or Josh Reynolds hauling in 92-yard touchdowns. But they are necessary for the sustained health of the offense.