When Taylor McNamara committed to play ball at Oklahoma, he seemed like just the kind of tight end that would thrive in Josh Heupel's pass-happy offense.
Coming out of Westview High School in San Diego, he was big, strong and displayed soft hands anytime a football was near. He showed all the tools needed to be the kind of mismatch tight end that has thrived in the Bob Stoops era.
From Joe Jon Finley to Jermaine Gresham, a large target with speed has been welcome in Norman. However after Gresham left the program three years ago, no tight end emerged as a go-to target for any quarterback at OU.
SCOOPHD: TAYLOR MCNAMARA BECOMING FACTOR AT TIGHT END
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video by Eddie Radosevich"There's just not a lot of Jermaine Greshams running around there," Stoops said. "You've gotta have the right people, and they've gotta be experienced enough that when they go out on the field they're better than another personnel grouping you might display out there. That's the deal we've gotta deal with."
It was obvious last year that Stoops and co-offensive coordinators Heupel and Jay Norvell were doing their best to incorporate tight ends into the Sooners' new offensive scheme -- even if the players playing the position weren't true tight ends.
"Last year we played with a tight end a lot more than we didn't," Stoops said.
Former Sooners Trey Millard and senior Aaron Ripkowski received the bulk of the chances to play tight end in 2013, especially when a tight end was being asked to run a route.
McNamara seemed like a prime candidate for those opportunities but seldom saw action, let alone a pass thrown his way. Then in the last game of the season, the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, McNamara came up with the first reception of his career.
"The whole year, I was just working to get better," McNamara said. "That's what you're doing the whole time, and eventually, I got good enough to where they thought I could help the team."
Stoops said McNamara is carrying over his bowl game performance into the spring and is showing the kind of improvement needed for a player of his caliber to help OU as a redshirt sophomore.
"He's working hard, and just with maturity and more time out there he is getting better," he said.
McNamara blamed himself for not coming along as quickly as he thought he should have, though he injured his shoulder in 2012 and received a medical redshirt because of it.
He said he was young and stubborn, but as an older player now he understands: The best players will play. Even in an offense that's no longer predicated on the arm of the quarterback but on a balanced attack, he's come to find joy in his football at OU.
McNamara doesn't mind the challenge of trying to earn reps and playing time in a tight end pool that added depth on Signing Day.
Freshman Dimitri Flowers, listed as a fullback but with that same invisible asterisk next to his name that once accompanied Millard's, has worked with the tight ends this spring. OU tight end signee Carson Meier will join the team this summer.
Former quarterback Blake Bell will try to give the Sooners a 6-foot-6, 264-pound target in the air and muscle at the line of scrimmage. Counting Flowers, there could be as many as nine Sooners vying for playing time at tight end this fall, and McNamara wants to be one of those his coaches can count on.
"Heck, I'm out there trying to play," McNamara said. "I don't want to sit my whole career here. I want to make an impact, so it was good to make a little impact there."