Despite six tight ends on the roster, Chris Petersen wonders if Washington has enough depth at that position to make it through the season.
“It’s such a physical position,” the UW coach said after Tuesday’s practice at Husky Stadium. “I just hope we have enough guys there that can hold up.”
Among the many personnel decisions Petersen will make before the Aug. 30 opener at Hawaii – who starts at quarterback, running back and in the secondary – one of the most pressing is determining who gets the first snap of the season at tight end.
While the race appears to have come down to Joshua Perkins and Darrell Daniels, a pair of converted receivers, the Huskies will likely rely on a by-committee approach at the spot once occupied by Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is one of the most accomplished tight ends in Pac-12 history.
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“I know it’s not going to be (just) two guys,” Petersen said. “We’re going to need all hands on deck there.”
Perkins, who had three touchdown receptions last season, has some of the surest hands on the team. He arrived at Washington as a three-star recruit ranked No. 64 among receivers in 2011 by ESPN.com. Perkins redshirted as a freshman and switched to tight end in 2012.
He doesn’t have a ton of experience, but the 6-foot-4, 227-pound junior proved valuable in the red zone last season while collecting three touchdown passes. He’s also the only returning UW tight end who made a catch (five for 57 yards) last season.
“I’m not going to try to be Austin,” Perkins said. “We have to be ourselves. We can’t try to replace a person. We just got to do us and put a new flavor into it.”
Daniels, a 6-4, 235-pound sophomore, switched from receiver to tight end midway through last season. During spring drills and fall camp, he’s exhibited breakaway speed and big-play ability.
“Austin was a great player, but now it’s time for me and Perk and all of the tight ends to step up,” Daniels said. “It’s not necessarily that we’re trying to fill his shoes. We’re trying to make our own shoes in this program, build our own name.”
The rest of the tight end group includes senior Michael Hartvigson, junior Derrick Brown, redshirt freshman David Ajamu and freshman Drew Sample.
Hartvigson, who is recovering from an apparent arm injury, started the 2013 opener against Boise State. However, his role as a pass catcher has diminished the past three seasons. As a redshirt freshman he had eight catches in 2011, six in 2013 and none last season.
Meanwhile, Ajamu and Brown, a converted quarterback, have been sharing reps with the third team in fall camp. Sample, the former Newport High standout, will likely redshirt this season.
Perkins and Daniels have shown promise in the passing game, but no one expects them to equal Seferian-Jenkins, who averaged 49 catches and 613 receiving yards the past three seasons.
During last Saturday’s scrimmage, UW tight ends unofficially finished with just two receptions for 37 yards.
“I saw a group that played hard,” tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said. “I think we played with a lot of effort. We’re doing a lot better job of finishing balls. We just have to be very consistent. I think we have really good plays right now and then we have some lapses.”
Petersen calls tight ends “unsung heroes,” but if his track record at Boise State is any indication, then tight ends will have a minimal impact in the UW passing game. BSU tight ends totaled 60 catches in 2011, 24 in 2012 and 20 in 2013.
“We ask them to block. We ask them to catch the ball and we ask them to play in space not only catching the ball, but blocking in space,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “We’re going to ask them to line up differently. The tight end position is unique. They have to be dialed in on the protection part; obviously they’re huge in the run game.
“Then we’re going to ask them to run routes and catch the ball like a receiver. So that position maybe besides the quarterback has got to know as much about the offense as anybody.”
If there’s a concern with UW’s tight ends, it’s their ability to block.
“Blocking is probably not as natural for them because they were a little more spread out,” Smith said, “but those guys have been working at it.”
Said Perkins: “It’s all a mindset. When you first get there you’re like, ‘Whoa, this guy is pretty big.’ Once you get your mindset right, I think you can do anything.”