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TE utilization could be a key to A&M’s success

A&M has more TE talent than perhaps anyone, but how will they implement it?

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban feigning ignorance about the definition of 12 personnel may have been the punch line of SEC Media Days last month, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that “old school” formation using two tight ends becomes a major component of Texas A&M’s offensive attack this fall.

It was only a few years ago that the biggest SEC punch line regarding tight ends was Kevin Sumlin’s usage of them (which was essentially non-existent). It became such a joke that in Jimbo Fisher’s first spring football game, fans let out sarcastic cheers when junior college transfer Jace Sternberger began catching passes. If only we knew the kind of tight end renaissance we were in for in College Station. Take a look at these mind-bottling stats:

  • All Combined Texas A&M Tight Ends (2012-2017): 32 rec, 255 yds, 4 TDs
  • Jace Sternberger (2018): 48 rec, 832 yds, 10 TDs
  • Jalen Wydermyer (2019): 32 rec, 447 yds, 6 TDs
  • Jalen Wydermyer (2020): 46 rec, 506 yds, 6 TDs

A&M went from only having a tight end finish in the team’s top 10 in receiving yards one time (Tanner Schorp in 2017, who finished 9th with 7 receptions for 65 yards), to having tight ends be among the top three pass-catchers in each of the past three seasons. And in each of those three seasons, a tight end has led the team in receiving touchdowns. To put it in even further perspective, Jace Sternberger and Jalen Wydermyer have seven GAMES in which they put up more receiving yards than the best SEASON the position group ever had under Kevin Sumlin (77 yards in 2012).

Suffice to say, tight end is a point of emphasis for this team under Jimbo Fisher, and based on the talent at the position heading into the 2021 season, that isn’t expected to change. If anything, we might see them lean on tight ends even more, and perhaps even more creatively.

Jalen Wydermyer is the known quantity in this group, hauling in 78 catches for more than 950 yards and 10 touchdowns in his two years in the maroon and white. He’s a big target (6’5”, 255 lbs) with great hands, is a preseason All-American and is projected by some to be the top tight end in the 2022 NFL Draft. That’s about as great a TE1 as you can ask for. But what’s incredible is that the Aggies have another tight end who is rumored to be just as talented, who will also likely see the field a ton, in Baylor Cupp. Cupp came to Aggieland in the same recruiting class as Wydermyer, and was the higher-rated recruit. In fact, he was the No. 1 tight end in the nation in the 2019 recruiting class. Cupp unfortunately saw fall camp injuries cost him each of his first two seasons for the Aggies, but he is fully healthy and is drawing raved reviews in practices so far. At 6’7” and 245 pounds, Cupp has just as much of a chance to provide a mismatch as Wydermyer, and will look to justify the recruiting hype he had when he first arrived.

A third name to add to this mix is true freshman quarterback-turned-tight-end Eli Stowers. This position switch was an unexpected one (and not one that is necessarily permanent), but coaches have complimented Stowers’ athleticism and his ability to quickly pick up the position so far. While Stowers is almost certainly the third tight end in the rotation, this seems like a switch they wouldn’t have made unless they thought he could see the field. In fact Offensive Coordinator Darrell Dicky said as much last week, noting that “we don’t want these talented guys that are over there watching.”

So the question becomes, how do you best take advantage of all of this tight end talent?

When you have elite players like Wydermyer and Cupp, you have to find every way to get them on the field. I don’t pretend to be an Xs and Os guy, but I’d be shocked if we didn’t see a ton of two tight end sets from A&M this fall. This may be extreme, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became our base formation. It should give the offense a ton of flexibility, whether you choose to use them as blockers on run plays, or create absolute matchup nightmares for linebackers and nickel backs trying to cover them in the open field. I think both players (Cupp in particular), are even athletic enough to move them out into the slot when the situation calls for it.

Ultimately none of us know exactly what Fisher and Dickey have planned for this position this season. But we have every reason to believe they’re going to be used, and used a ton. It will be one of the one of the most intriguing aspects to watch when they take the field against Kent State on Sept. 4.