A big species could be coming out of hibernation for the University at Buffalo football team this season.
The tight end, an afterthought in the UB offense much of the past four years, looks like a mighty good position the first week of preseason practice.
UB has two big, mobile tight ends in junior Matt Weiser and sophomore Mason Schreck, and both of them pass the “eyeball test.”
“Both of them have the capability of being viable receiving threats,” said receivers coach Marty Spieler. “We’re going to put the best 11 on the field.”
“We feel like the tight end position is a position that can really give our offense balance,” said Weiser. “We think we can create mismatches with our size and speed and athleticism against linebackers or smaller cornerbacks.”
Both are 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, and both have a large wingspan for quarterback Joe Licata to target.
Both emerged as contributors last season. Weiser, the starter, caught 13 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. Schreck, usually lined up detatched from the line, had 17 catches for 147 yards and two TDs.
The tight end position produced 39 catches last year. The previous three seasons combined it produced only 48 for UB.
Still, it has been five years since a UB tight end managed even 200 yards in catches for a season or more than two TDs.
“Matt Weiser, he has great height, he’s a big target, he has great hands,” said UB head coach Jeff Quinn. “He’s improved every year he’s been in our program, and he got a lot of playing time last year.”
“I think Matt is more complete, more defined,” Quinn said. “Mason is working toward those things. But both of them are going to be important in terms of our ability to be efficient in critical situations.”
The spread offense that Quinn brought to UB in 2010 favored multiple wide receiver sets over tight ends. But over the years UB has embraced the blocking benefits the tight end provides in the run game, and Licata is a pocket passer who can exploit the routes that tight ends run.
“When I first came here in 2010, I lifted the whole Cincinnati system and put it in here,” Quinn said. “That was without a doubt what I wanted to see take hold, and that’s how we got things rolling. When that year ended, I wanted to look at our personnel very carefully for the next year.”
“I really felt getting a second back in the backfield, attaching more tight end to the formations, was the thing to do,” Quinn said. “We’ve looked at it carefully, and it has evolved. … With Joe being the quarterback now, we really sensed how we wanted to move this offense to where it is today.” Both tight ends have added almost 30 pounds since arriving on campus.
Weiser is from the Reading, Pa., area and was a second-team all-state Pennsylvania pick as a prep. He picked UB over Toledo and UConn.
“We got a good amount of playing time last year, and the experience has really helped us,” Weiser said. “Working with Joe and our linemen over the summer, we feel like we’ve developed into the complete, blocking and receiving tight end.”
Schreck was a star quarterback at Medina High School, a half-hour south of Cleveland. Toledo was interested in him as a quarterback, but he didn’t have any other firm offers besides Buffalo, which targeted him to switch positions all along.
“I came in as a quarterback, and learning tight end that first year was a struggle for me,” Schreck said. “I’ve always had that physicality in my DNA. That really wasn’t a hard transition. It was more learning the technique of footwork and all that stuff.”
There’s a long tradition of converting high school QBs to college tight end. The Buffalo Bills’ top two all-time receiving TEs, Pete Metzelaars and Jay Riemersma, both were prep QBs. Schreck says his QB background helps.
“I think just understanding the defense and being able to look and see they’re in Cover 2 or Cover 4, whatever,” he said. “Just to have a feeling you’re going to be getting the ball on a certain play helps.”
Licata had a quality day passing Wednesday, hitting numerous downfield throws. The standout of the receiving corps was 6-4 junior Ron Willoughby, who made a couple of acrobatic catches. The Bulls will practice in full pads for the first time on Friday.