The Texas Longhorns believe M.J. McFarland can develop into the dynamic tight end the program has lacked in recent years. But that's contingent on the redshirt freshman maturing as a blocker.
McFarland showed signs of becoming a reliable blocker in last week's 56-50 win over Baylor, though. On the first play of the game, he sealed the edge on the right side and cleared a lane to set up Daje Johnson's 84-yard touchdown run.
"On that first play in particular, that's as good as I've seen as far as just locking a guy up," offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said.
Coach Mack Brown said McFarland's block was "something he couldn't have done in preseason."
McFarland converted to tight end when he came to Texas in 2011. Before that, he was a star wide receiver at El Dorado High School in El Paso, where he set school records for career receptions (185), receiving yards (2,601), touchdowns (44) and total points (264). His ability to catch the ball has never been in question, but his blocking has.
"Where M.J. continues to work is when he has his hand down in the ground going against defensive ends," Harsin said. "He's so big and so tall and so long, he has to work harder than [senior tight end] Barrett Matthews to get down and get underneath a guys pads because of his size."
While McFarland's size can make it harder for him to block defensive lineman, his 6-foot-6-inch frame gives quarterback David Ash a big target in the middle of the field.
"He's like a tree," Ash said.
McFarland made an instant impact as a receiver this year with a leaping touchdown catch against New Mexico on Sept. 8, his first career reception. He had a 29-yard catch against Baylor in his second career start and has six receptions for 105 yards (17.5 average) in seven games this year.
"He can run and catch and is a big target. He's a guy that can be a really good player if he will continue to block," Brown said. "We're excited about him for the future. He's coming, we just have to keep him working."
By Austin Laymance/Special to the Star-Telegram