Texas’ clouded tight end situation may soon be settled by attrition.
The Longhorns lost another tight end to a season-ending medical condition today, increasing the total to four in the past month.
The latest departure comes from Ian Harris, who will not play in 2009 because of a recurring nerve injury in his neck, team trainers announced. Harris, a sophomore who had one catch last season, joins three other tight ends lost to a season- or career-ending medical condition in the past month: Blaine Irby (knee), D.J. Grant (knee) and Josh Marshall (shoulder), an Arlington Martin graduate who has given up football.
Irby, Grant and Harris plan to return in 2010. In a statement released by school officials, Harris said he has been dealing with a recurring “stinger” in his neck that has not responded to rehabilitation exercises.
“Each time I came back, it would happen again,” Harris said. “After talking to the team doctors, we decided it would be best for me to take this year off … and focus on getting healthy.”
Harris’ departure leaves Texas, the No. 2 team in the pre-season coaches poll, with only one active tight end who has caught a pass at the college level: converted offensive tackle Greg Smith, who doubles as the team’s deep snapper. Smith (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) caught two passes for four yards last season, including a 1-yard scoring strike against Baylor.
Other candidates in the mix include returnee Ahmard Howard and two incoming freshmen, Trey Graham and Barrett Matthews.
Smith, who dropped 30 pounds in the off-season to improve his quickness, was recruited as a tight end but has played primarily in the offensive line and as a blocking tight end in goal-line and short-yardage sets. During an interview earlier in fall camp, Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he has been pleased by Smith’s weight loss and progress made as a receiver in recent months.
“Greg has really good hands,” Davis said. “If he can function underneath in the option-route game … we can get by.”
Davis also left open the possibility of leaning heavily on four-receiver sets with no tight end, which the Longhorns used frequently in 2008 after Irby suffered a season-ending injury in a Sept. 20 game against Rice.
Quarterback Colt McCoy said Smith “had a great summer” during voluntary workouts and could surprise opponents as a receiver.
“We recruited him as a receiving tight end. He runs good routes,” McCoy said. “He’s committed himself to shedding some weight and getting faster. So, we’ll see.”
_ Jimmy Burch