MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Those pro-style and West Coast offenses turn tight ends into pass-catching weapons. But these spread attacks in the Big 12 …
“Not so much,” said Cody Clay.
He was grinning, WVU’s junior tight end, and recalled idolizing Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. Sure, those guys were transformative talents capable of prospering in any system, but even a more conventional tight end like Anthony Becht caught 83 passes at West Virginia.
Through Clay’s first two seasons in Morgantown, he has caught 11.
With the departure of Texas Tech’s 106-catch machine Jace Amaro—who was initially excluded from the Mackey Award list because he lined up at wideout so frequently—this year’s Big 12 tight ends appear to have an anonymity problem.
Quick quiz: Who was the preseason pick for All-Big 12 tight end?
“I’ve never even heard of him,” Clay admitted sheepishly Tuesday. “I don’t even know his name.”
It was Iowa State’s E.J. Bibbs, whose 39 catches in 2013 seemed gluttonous compared to the league’s third most-targeted tight end, Jimmay Mundine, who had 20 receptions for Kansas.
The rest of the league’s uptempo offenses essentially ignored tight ends. Baylor threw 35 touchdowns, but none found Jordan Najvar, who had just 10 catches. Oklahoma State’s tandem of Blake Jackson and Jeremy Seaton grabbed six passes each, John Harris at Texas settled for five receptions, while Oklahoma’s true tight ends caught three passes combined. (Wonder if the Sooners will manage to overlook 6-foot-6 Blake Bell this season?)
With spread offenses skewing toward four-receiver sets most tight ends are playing fewer snaps. In the case of the 6-4, 250-pound Clay, he spends more time working at slot receiver and fullback. But when a young fan asks what position he plays, Clay stays true to his tight end roots.
“If I tell them I’m a receiver, they’d go ‘Oh you’re pretty fat for that.’ Or if I tell them I’m a fullback they’re like, ‘You’re pretty tall for that.’ So I’d go with tight end. I just look like one,” he said.
While hailed by coaches and teammates as the locker room’s most selfless player, Clay still allows himself to imagine playing a larger downfield role in the Air Raid. So what’s the over/under on his catches on 2014?
“I’d like to see at least 25, but you never know.”
CLAY ‘IMPRESSED’ BY OFFENSE
Because Clay works at multiple positions, he has detailed interaction with various parts of the offense. Through a summer’s worth of 7-on-7s and six days of preseason camp, he sees progress. It springs from quarterback Clint Trickett being situated as the leader and other returnees growing confident in their roles.
“I’m in a lot of different meeting rooms, so I’m seeing what’s going on and I know when somebody else is doing a good job,” he said. “The offensive stuff—what we’ve got going on—I’m pretty impressed with it.
“Clint’s playing pretty well and everybody’s doing their part. We’re trying to get some continuity among the first team, and everybody can depend on each other.”