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July 30, 2012

Summer Question 8: Who Plays Tight End?

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For the first time in a number of years, Virginia Tech enters the fall without a known starting tight end. Instead, tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring is looking at a number of options, none of which have proven themselves as bona fide starters no matter their age. Today, we discuss what the Hokies might do with the position entering 2012.

1. The Participants

Two redshirt seniors, Eric Martin and Randall Dunn, lead the pack. Martin is a terrific blocker, but not much of a receiver. Dunn is a terrific receiver, but not much of a blocker.

The difference is split down the middle in the form of the third participant, sophomore Ryan Malleck. Malleck is the prototypical size for a tight end at six foot four, 250 pounds and possesses the talent to be solid in both facets of the game.

The dark horse in this race is Duan Perez-Means, who switched from defensive end in the spring, has tons of athleticism, and figures to get better and better with each rep. Redshirt freshman Darius Redman and true freshman Dakota Jackson probably need a bit more seasoning before being serious contenders.

2. Martin's Role

Martin has been good enough to block at the ACC level for a number of years. That much hasn't changed and thus, he will be on the field at some capacity at this point. However, he's now entering his fifth year and the chances of him suddenly improving his pass catching abilities enough are slim. However, his blocking will keep him in the mix, either as a co-starter or a top backup.

3. Dunn's Potential

Dunn is one of the most athletically gifted players on the team. He came to Virginia Tech as a wide receiver, but quickly made the move to tight end and has spent his entire career trying to become a good enough blocker.

With the incumbents that have been ahead of him over the years cleared out, Dunn was finally given the opportunity to show just how dangerous he can be in the passing game in the spring and he did just that. His effort in the redzone during one of the open scrimmages was flat-out impressive.

This is the kind of player that creates mismatches all over the field and he's not afraid to elevate over defenders to make a catch. If he could just prove to Stinespring that he is a solid blocker, he would run away from the field.

However, just like it's unlikely that Martin suddenly improves enough as a receiver, it is unlikely that Dunn will improve as a blocker. Just like Martin's blocking ability will get him on the field, so will Dunn's receiving talents.

4. The Future - Malleck

Malleck played just 40 offensive snaps last year as a true freshman, but that experience in live games and the experience he gained by practicing with the varsity every week accelerated his development enough to put him in the conversation this fall. His future is definitely as a talented two-way tight end, but whether he can reach his full potential in 2012 remains to be seen.

That's what August is going to be about for Malleck. No one denies he has talent. But is it enough to overtake a combination of Martin's blocking and Dunn's receiving? We'll see.

5. Conclusion

Ultimately, I believe Stinespring will go with a mishmash rotation of Dunn, Martin, and Malleck. There are enough skills and tools available from those three to put together a rotation that takes advantage of each skill set while not giving away the play-call whenever Dunn (pass) or Martin (run) steps on the field.

Dunn's ability to haul in touchdowns in the redzone could be particularly dangerous, as he was downright nasty down the seams during the spring, In fact, I could see him taking some snaps from Corey Fuller as a defacto #4 receiver this fall in the slot.

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