Tight ends' goal in 2012: Catch everything thrown
USF assistant coach Peter Vaas moved to a new position this spring, taking on the tight ends after two years as the Bulls' quarterback coach. His new position has a few different positions within the tight end grouping -- pass-catching tight ends, blocking tight ends, versatile H-backs and traditional fullbacks. We sat down with him to catch up on one of USF's deepest positions, with a mix of senior veterans and promising young players.
I asked Vaas how many catches he would like to see from the tight ends this season to consider it a successful year at the position -- the group had 43 last year, with Evan Landi getting 29 and Andreas Shields getting 11.
"I would go the other way. It's more important that as a position we don't have any drops," Vaas said. "I think the catch has become a product of what the defense is doing, how we're playing people. I have no idea how many catches the position had a year ago to be perfectly honest with you. I don't want this to be evasive, but the key thing is 'Let's catch everything that's thrown to us.' Whether those opportunities are presented, we're not a product of that. The number is insignificant."
-- Vaas talked in spring about making the position a more physical group, putting a hand on the ground more often and becoming an extension of the running game, while offering mismatches as pass-catching options for the offense.
"I think we've made an awful lot of progress," Vaas said. "A year ago, toward the end of training camp, as an offensive staff, we basically revamped our offense so you rarely if ever saw us with a tight end with his hand on the ground. Everybody played off the line of scrimmage, which becomes more of a finesse position. During the spring, we played an awful lot with a tight end having his hand on the ground. I hope as the season progresses, that progress bears some fruit in that we run the ball with more effectiveness."
-- Shields, limited in spring by a health issue related to his pancreas, should be fine for start of camp. "Shields' situation should be OK. He still had some situations with it this summer that have kept him from working out on a consistent basis, but as of just a couple of days ago, he's in good spirits and seems to be doing pretty well."
Asked about the different TE roles and who fits in where, Vaas said Shields is "probably the most traditional tight end. The guy growing into being a traditional tight end is Michael McFarland. The guy who is probably a superlative who does something extremely well would be Jeff Hawkins. The fullback role comes under the jurisdiction probably of about 3-4 people, those being (walk-ons) Chris Breit, Spencer Cavalieri, potentially a freshman named Jackson Cannon and the possibility of Hawkins filling in in that role as an overlap guy. We see him right now as an end-of-the-line blocker."
"The wide receiver people that most immediately come to mind are Evan Landi, who's your move tight end. The overlap is Mike McFarland, who can be a move tight end and is growing into being an end-of-the-line tight end. ... (Walk-on Jake Carlton) is a guy who's an overlap guy who fits into that mix. ... What's going to happen with Tye Turner? He's being developed as an end-of-the-line guy. How does the injury situation hold up? In an ideal world, you'd like to see Tye develop a little bit more. At the same time, Tye has the ability to contribute this season if called upon."
-- With all that depth, there's still much interest in seeing true freshman Sean Price and what he can do this fall: "You're going to be real remiss if you don't listen to the scuttlebutt that's going on with Sean Price. He's an outstanding young man with a world of talent that will be very interesting to see how he fits into the equation. People are excited about his future. How soon does the future happen? Tomorrow? Next year? Two years from now? Who knows."
-- One name you didn't hear as Vaas ran through all his players, including walk-ons, is junior Isaac Virgin, who has yet to find meaningful playing time despite coming in with high potential three years ago. I asked Vaas where things stood for him: "I'm not sure where he is (status-wise). He has some things he has to shore up academically. We'll see what happens." Vaas also said walk-ons Justin Wilcox and Tyler Guy, who were with the team last year, are "on the borderline" for making the initial 105-man roster.