NORMAN — More than a decade after his collegiate playing career ended, former Oklahoma tight end Trent Smith says he’s just “a donor and a fan,” lacking much special insight into the inner-workings of today’s Sooner football program.
But he has noticed a troubling trend the past couple seasons regarding his old position.
“You notice that tight ends aren’t out there,” Smith said. “You notice that tight ends aren’t making plays, and all of a sudden, it’s a big deal when they make two catches in a game. That’s not the way it used to be.
“I’m sure I speak for all of us old tight ends; it’s exciting to see the position back in the limelight a little bit.”
Is the Oklahoma tight end making a comeback after two years of relative obscurity? OU fans will get their first glance at the 2014 Sooners in next Saturday’s spring game, and while Blake Bell’s knee injury might dampen some of the excitement, lots of eyes will still be on the tight ends.
Tight ends were an integral piece of Stoops’ offenses throughout his first 13 seasons in Norman, with playmakers such as Smith, Joe Jon Finley, Jermaine Gresham and James Hanna contributing often.
In 2011, Hanna, Trent Ratterree and Austin Haywood combined for 43 catches, 524 yards and four touchdowns, but after Hanna and Ratterree graduated and Haywood left the team, the 2012 team lacked any significant tight end presence.
When OU used tight ends in 2013, it was generally fullbacks Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski filling that role. Position coach Jay Boulware often cites that as evidence that the group was important to the overall offensive effort — even if they weren’t catching many passes.
“I had two kids that played 50-something plays a game in Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski,” Boulware said. “We rushed for more yards last year on our offense than we have in I don’t know how long, and our tight ends had a lot to do with that.
“Now as far as our productivity in the throwing game? That’s where we have to improve.”
Bell, who started eight games at quarterback last season but switched to tight end in January, will miss the rest of spring practices with a knee injury suffered last week. But junior-college transfer Isaac Ijalana and sophomore Taylor McNamara could make waves this fall. OU also will add Tulsa Union product Carson Meier this summer.
“For the first time maybe since I was a recruit or in college, I looked at the highlight film of the incoming tight ends we have this year,” Smith said. “They all look pretty salty. It’s nice to see that type of athlete back on campus for OU.”