It’s not all that uncommon for a new coach to oversee a high turnover rate of players his first season in charge of an FBS football program. For new Idaho coach Paul Petrino that number is somewhere between 10 to 15 players who have moved on from the program. But one position group has remained completely intact — The tight ends.
On top of tight ends coach Al Pupunu being the only coaching holdover from Robb Akey’s staff, Idaho returns all six scholarship tight ends from the 2012 season which includes the two who should have the biggest impact on Idaho’s offense this season, seniors Michael LaGrone and Taylor Elmo.
This is in stark contrast to the rest of Idaho’s skill position groups, which will feature a large amount of inexperience at the FBS level.
The issue is this: Elmo and LaGrone combined for only 17 receptions last year. Though, that could be contributed a lot more to the fact that tight-ends were asked to stay back and block more with the inexperienced offensive line, and not too mention three different starting quarterbacks. Still, the tight end position is one that hasn’t seen much play in the passing game since Daniel Hardy graduated in 2010.
So what should we realistically expect from the pair in 2013 under Petrino’s offense?
The history of tight ends in offenses run by new Idaho coach Paul Petrino is erratic and situationally dependent. There have seasons where the leading tight end receiver on the team had only 10 receptions (freshman Evan Wilson at Illinois in 2010), and seasons when the leading receiver on the team period was a tight end (current Green Bay Packer DJ Williams at Arkansas in 2008 with 58 receptions). All in all, the trend seems to be that tight ends have been a bit of an afterthought in Paul Petrino offenses, with a good explanation — Feed The Studs. The phrase, which Petrino christened at his introductory press conference, is the philosophy in which Petrino explains that he wants the ball to get into the hands of his playmakers as much as possible.
He’s had a lot of playmakers in his time as offensive coordinator at Louisville, Arkansas and Illinois.
In seasons which tight ends receptions were down it coincided with the emergence of current NFL players such as Harry Douglas, Michael Bush, Greg Childs, Mike Leshoure, AJ Jenkins and Cobi Hamilton.
Leading TE receptions breaks down like this
2005 – Louisville – Gary Barnridge – 17 rec, 140 yards – Michael Bush year
2006 – Louisville – Gary Barnridge – 31 rec, 511 yards – Harry Douglas year
2008 – Arkansas – DJ Williams – 58 rec, 588 yards
2009 – Arkansas – DJ Williams – 32 rec, 411 yards
2010 – Illinois – Evan Wilson – 10 rec, 135 yards – Mikel Leshoure year
2011 – Illinois – Jon Davis – 22 rec, 187 yards – AJ Jenkins year
2012 – Arkansas – Chris Gragg – 22 rec, 289 yards – Cobi Hamilton year
The theme here is situationally dependent, since it’s fair to assume Idaho doesn’t quite have studs to feed the ball to…yet. It depends on the ability of a maturing offensive line to stand its own ground, it depends on how much the new starting quarterback will use his legs compared to his arm in the new read-option offense, it depends on the development of depth at wide receiver behind Najee Lovett.
The role of the tight ends is one of the more intriguing unknowns for the Vandals heading into fall practice.
Tight Ends at a glance
Returning: Taylor Elmo – Sr., Michael LaGrone – Sr., Clayton Homme – Sr., Jared Klingenberg – So., Justin Podrabsky – Jr., Eric Lemke – RFr.
Incoming: Kevin Shelton – Fr.
Projected depth chart:
1. Taylor Elmo
2. Michael LaGrone
3. Clayton Homme
4. Eric Lemke
Taylor Elmo was once a promising redshirt freshman when he caught 18 passes and two touchdowns in 2010. Since then his expected ascension to consistent starter hasn’t happened for a multitude of reasons — Last season it was a suspension handed down because of his Twitter criticism of the dismissal of Robb Akey. But he’s back this season, and Idaho is in need of pass-catching targets. If there is a season where Elmo can breakout and catch 30+ balls, helping to ease in Idaho’s new starting quarterback, then this is definitely that year. Michael LaGrone should still very much in the picture, he’s a solid blocker and has proven to be welcome sight in the redzone.
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