This is the sixth in a series of posts which will break down the '08 football 'Cats. Today we break down the tight ends.
Kentucky assistant head coach Steve Ortmayer, who also coaches tight ends, must be seeking advice from some of his coaching colleagues in Lexington this summer on how to replace the best tight end in the SEC, and possibly the country, for that matter. After all, Ortmayer finds himself in a position familiar to the other offensive positional coaches on Kentucky's staff; looking for ways to fill the holes left by André Woodson, Rafael Little, Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, Wesley Woodyard, and Jacob Tamme.
Perhaps the second most difficult player for UK to replace is Tamme. The three year starter, and two-time 1st Team All-SEC performer was as reliable a pass catcher and run blocker as has ever played the position in UK history. Tamme, the Indianapolis Colt's fourth-round pick, racked up 133 receptions for 1,417 yards, and 11 touchdowns in his career. Last year he snagged 56 balls for 619 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Tamme's pass-catching ability afforded him many opportunities to bail out the offense, and he proved to be an excellent "relief valve" for an on-the-run Woodson.
As good as Tamme's stats are though, they don't do him justice. He was a leader in every sense of the word; he never took a play off, he sacrificed his body to block for his running backs and receivers, and he caught EVERYTHING thrown his way. He was a physical, hard-hitting, soft-handed, prototypical college tight end.
Tamme was big, strong and fast ( 4.58-40 ) enough to get out in front of the ball carrier and pancake opposing linebackers and defensive backs as well; his presence on the field is one reason the perimeter running game was so successful last year. He could also run routes across the middle, or he could go outside, either way he was very effective catching the ball. He could shed tacklers, and gain yards after the catch. There just wasn't a whole lot the Boyle County product couldn't do.
Which leads us to the question: In an offense that relies heavily on the tight end to perform a variety of duties, are the youngsters ready to fill the void?
T.C. Drake 6'6", 230 lb junior -- 1 catch, 2 yards, and 1 touchdown in 13 games played. As a high school senior at Nelson County Drake caught 15 passes for 400 yards, good for a 26.7 yards per catch average. WOW!
Drake's touchdown catch last year came in the biggest game in recent UK history; versus LSU. I remember it well because it was a fantastic end zone catch off of a deflection ( I think Keenan Burton ). Drake was behind Burton and adjusted quickly to the wobbling ball. He made a very nice grab, setting the tone for the game by putting up the first points of the three overtime epic.
Drake is a very similar, physically, to Tamme. Both are big and fast for their size. But, can Drake have the impact on a game that Tamme did? Probably not, but he has the tools to be a difference maker both receiving and blocking.
**Drakes sister Samantha, verbally committed to women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell. She is a rising junior at Nelson County High School.
Ross Bogue 6'5", 240 lb junior -- Played in thirteen games, mostly on special teams, and made 1 tackle.
Bogue is considered to have a strong hold on the #2 TE spot behind Drake. In the spring he demonstrated an ability to catch, and make yards after the catch. Fall practice will tell us more about his potential.
Maurice Grinter 6'3", 250 lb junior -- 4 catches for 21 yards. Grinter will also play fullback, where last year he had 9 rushes for 36 yards.
Grinter, out of Fairdale High School, has served in multiple capacities on the field for UK over his career. This year he will be relied upon to provide some leadership at the tight end position simply because he has more on-field experience than either Drake or Bogue. I also look for Grinter to play more at tight end this year simply to add some depth to the position. He's often been in the game in goal-line situations because of his ability to gain tough yards. This year a goal-line two tight end set may be something we see. I would think Grinter would be one of the two tight ends in the game in those situations.
Grinter is also a powerful blocker. He's very strong and loves to hit, which is why he excels at both the fullback and tight end positions.
Others at the position
Tyler Sexton 6'2", 240 lb junior -- Sexton, out of Pulaski County, will probably not see much playing time this year unless there are some major injuries at the position.
Chris Goode 6'4", 230 lb red-shirt freshman -- Goode didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school. Yet he was still rated the #24 prospect out of Georgia his senior year, by PrepStar.
Sean Stackhouse 6'4", 240 lb freshman -- The Jacksonville, Florida native was rated the #31 tight end prospect by Scout.com. His senior year he caught 32 passes for 426 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also participated in track and field, and basketball. He was nominated for the US Army All-America football game.
In the spring both Drake and Bogue showed good skill sets. The duo caught the ball well and exhibited good blocking skills. Head coach Rich Brooks had this to say about the two tight ends:
"I feel that he ( Drake ) can be a very good tight end. He and Bogue need to show consistency in technique, but they possess significant talent to shore up that position."
Based on the spring results, and coach Brooks' positive words, I think UK fans may see a continuance of the solid tight end play we've enjoyed for the last three years. They may not produce Tamme numbers, but they don't have to. They just have to catch the ball, and block like mad-men.
Offensive Coordinator Joker Phillips likes to utilize the tight end, so we will all find out very quickly how effectively the position is being manned.
Who holds UK's single-season record for most pass receptions?
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!