Spring Preview - Tight End

Will Ajamu take the starting spot? (Scout.com)

For those paying attention to Washington Football, it came as no surprise that Austin Seferian-Jenkins immediately declared himself for the 2014 NFL Draft moments after the Huskies' Fight Hunger Bowl win over BYU. It was even less of a shock that the junior from Fox Island, Wash. told reporters that he was leaving regardless of the UW coaching situation.

Hiring Chris Petersen - on the surface - certainly made Seferian-Jenkins' decision all that much easier. It's hard to see where Petersen plans on giving tight ends much credit at Washington, especially if you base that on what they did (or didn't do) the last two years at Boise State.

But for those UW fans hoping Petersen doesn't go away from the staple that prompted Sports Illustrated, in the late 1990's, to proclaim Washington 'Tight End U' - there are glimmers. First, he retained Jordan Paopao from Steve Sarkisian's staff, the only coach to remain at Montlake from the previous administration. Petersen wouldn't dedicate a tight ends coach for a position he plans to throw away.

Secondly, he recruited and signed a local tight end - Newport's Drew Sample - something he didn't do when looking at adding a fullback or hybrid offensive player.
Tight End:
84 Michael Hartvigson - 6-6, 257 Sr. Bothell, Wash. (Bothell) - Hartvigson has always been one of those spring camp, fall camp types that gives fans glimpses of hope, only to eventually be let down due to a lack of playing time or effectiveness when he has played. Fans would be hard-pressed to know the senior played in all 13 games last year considering he didn't catch one pass. He's athletic enough to be a factor downfield against defensive backs, and he's clearly big enough to be another edge lineman in clear rushing situations.
82 Joshua Perkins - 6-3, 224 Jr. Cerritos, Calif. (Gahr)
- Perkins came to UW as a big receiver - like Daniels - but was moved to tight end in 2011. Perkins was definitely a situational 'small' tight end, catching only five passes last season, but three of them were for touchdowns. Perkins will always be on the smaller side of the tight ends, so expect him to once again be used in very specific packages where he can exploit his blend of size, speed, and pass-catching ability against defensive backs.
15 Darrell Daniels - 6-4, 232 So. Pittsburg, Calif. (Freedom)
- Daniels' early career mirrors Perkins; he came in as a big, athletic receiver, and then mid-way through his freshman year was moved to tight end. Steve Sarkisian showered Daniels with praise, comparing the move to a similar move made by Fred Davis at USC, a move that eventually landed Davis a Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end. But word is now coming down that Daniels is once again a big receiver and won't be asked to do a lot of the things he was being groomed for, like in-line blocking. That's a shame, because Daniels has shown, especially on special teams, to come at the position with a real defensive mindset. He loves to blow people up. Daniels isn't gifted with natural pass-catching hands; his forte has always been what he's been able to do with the ball after the catch.
85 David Ajamu - 6-5, 245 RFr. Shelton, Wash. (Shelton) - The future of the position, Ajamu redshirted last season so his UW career could take off as a frosh in 2014. He was recruited as an all-around tight end, one that both blocked and caught passes in high school. Now Ajamu is bigger, faster, and stronger than when he arrived at UW last summer and ready to take the position by force.

Departing Players: 1 (Austin Seferian-Jenkins)

Incoming This Fall: 1 (Drew Sample)

Where the Position Stands: That's the $64 question, isn't it? There's actually two $64 questions that need to be answered here: 1) How will Petersen utilize the position? and 2) How will they replace Seferian-Jenkins?

In tackling the first question, you have to go back to Boise State to see how Petersen used tight ends. Again, if you go back to the last couple of seasons, Petersen's move to the Pistol Offense under Robert Prince all but eliminated the tight end from their base attack. But, as we know based on Petersen's own comments when he showed up at UW, Petersen isn't wedded to the Pistol any more. He has shown in the past he knows how to utilize tight ends downfield. See: Derek Schouman, Kyle Efaw, and others. And by hiring Paopao, that's another sign Petersen believes the idea of using the tight end in the Pac-12 is more than just a novelty.

The second question is probably a harder one to answer because the Huskies have never had to replace a Mackey Award winner. Credit here needs to go to Sarkisian for stuffing the cupboard with quality. They may have only a couple of true 'traditional' tight end bodies, but then again - the tight end isn't really used in the traditional sense anymore when you look at the tight ends at the top of most 2014 NFL Draft boards; ASJ, Eric Ebron (North Carolina), and Jace Amaro (Texas Tech). With all those tight ends, blocking is a secondary concern to their ability to run down seams and create mis-matches in the passing game.

That's where players like Perkins and Daniels - should they stay at TE this spring - should shine.

Ajamu is the clear heir apparent to Seferian-Jenkins, and doesn't mind the comparisons at all. In fact, he welcomes them. So if there's a player in this group Petersen will try and use the same way Sark used ASJ, there's no doubt Ajamu fits that criteria.

Who Has the Edge?: Another huge question mark going into this spring, because there really isn't a true successor to Seferian-Jenkins. All the players that are expected to be involved in the spring competition have a legitimate shot to earn a starting spot this fall, and there's no reasons, no excuses why they shouldn't take advantage.

Hartvigson is the old hand of the group, and while the senior hasn't jumped on his chances like most hoped, he'll be an influence in this group. He's big enough to still be a force in the run game, and definitely athletic enough to be a big receiver downfield if needed. There really shouldn't be anything stopping Mike from jumping on this chance with everyone getting a clean slate and a new opportunity to show themselves.

We've seen what Perkins can do from time to time; his UW future on offense seems to be destined as a role player unfortunately. He's got that tweener body, yet seems to always produce when he's given a chance. Hopefully he'll get more opportunities to shine once Petersen and new UW OC Jonathan Smith get a feel for everyone's strengths and game plan around those strengths.

Who Should Step Up?: The x-factors will be Daniels and Ajamu. Sark's talk of Daniels being the next Fred Davis? That's heady praise. We'll see if Pete and Paopao feel the same way come spring. And like Wooching, would it surprise me to see Daniels switch to defense, especially with a talented frosh like Sample coming to Montlake in the summer? Not at all. Tight end is always going to be an intriguing position in Petersen's offense, but not always essential. Daniels is one pure athlete you have to try to get on the field in some capacity.

And Ajamu's time is right now. This spring is what he's been putting in his time for in the weight room, languishing on the service team, playing players like Colt Lyerla, Chris Coyle, Richard Rodgers and Connor Hamlett, and helping prepare his defensive teammates. He's been given a year to get acclimated; it should be his springboard to much bigger and better this spring.

In Waiting: Sample is an intriguing prospect in the sense that he's really more of a run-blocker in the Newport offense that went out and proved himself a more-than-capable pass catcher during the camp and combine circuit prior to his senior season. His best football is well ahead of him, and while Petersen did talk about the use of a number of true freshmen this fall it seems he would be hard-pressed to use Sample right away - especially with the sheer numbers ahead of him in the tight end pecking order.

In Summary: All the question marks aside, there's no question Washington has plenty of talent coming back in spite of Seferian-Jenkins' move to the NFL. Can they replicate his production in the aggregate? They have to. Some of the returners are better in helping the running backs spring free to the next level, some are better creating mis-matches against linebackers and safeties in the passing game. However it needs to get done, Petersen, Smith, and Paopao have the players they need to get that done. The bodies are there; how they go about utilizing those bodies will be one of the real interesting aspects of spring football when looking at Petersen and how he puts his imprint on the offense moving forward. How much he stays with Sarkisian's initial plan or how much he strays from it should show up in how the tight ends are used.

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