Today, I would like to bring to your attention Milan Richard. In a similar vein to Quacking Tiger, I find some X-Factors don't need to be starters but guys who can contribute at a high level. That's where Mr. Richard fits right in.
I don't know if you watched the the Big Weigh-In, but skip to around 3:50. That's him. That's Milan Richard. Now ask yourself, doesn't that look like one hell of an athlete? (Yes. yes it does). It appears ole Uncle Hershel's work ethic has been somewhat instilled in him. But does he look like Tarzan and play like Jane? For the sake of our tight end group this season and moving forward, I hope not.
Now, let's take a look at what we have returning at tight end for the 2015 season, coupled with their 2014 stats.
The only 3 to catch a pass last year were Seckinger, Leggett, and McCullough. Most of McCullough's yards came on one bomb vs South Carolina State so, in real games that mattered, he failed to produce at a high level. DJ Greenlee has only logged 28 career snaps, 20 of which came against SC State. The rest of the 2015 crop have yet to play a college snap due to red shirting or being fresh out of high school.
In this offense the tight end is asked to produce in the passing game but also prove to be an effective blocker on the edge for screens, but also on the interior on zone plays while lined up in an H-Back position. This group could not block effectively last season, and only combined for 30 catches, for 379 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Compare that production here, and see that there has been a steady decline in our tight end production since 2011.
In order to make this offense click, we must get effective blocking from the tight ends paired with consistent production in the passing game. By stretching the field, stressing the defense in the center, being a reliable check down, and being a red zone threat, the tight end can really stress the defense in unique ways. You want a guy that's too fast for linebackers, but yet too big and physical for DB's. You want a Swiss Army knife.
So, by taking a look at the table above and knowing what we know about last years blocking trials and tribulations, it does not really inspire confidence in the group. But, Jordan Leggett was by far the biggest let down of the group.
After a Freshman campaign in which he admitted to being lazy, I expected Leggett to turn the corner as a Sophomore. In the end, he had quite a paltry year and did not make up for it at all with his extremely lack luster blocking (What's up Whiffles). And, Leggett actually regressed slightly from his Freshman receiving numbers (12 receptions, 176 yards, 2 TDs). While, it appears that Leggett's buying in as a blocker, I will wait to see it consistently week in and week out before I bless the sentiment, but there's really only one direction for his blocking ability and effort to go. Up.
All of this now brings me back to Richard. I believe he could be the Swiss Army knife that this team has so desperately needed out of the tight end position since Brandon Ford departed. Ford was not the greatest blocker in the world, but he was serviceable and also proved to be a reliable target his final year, especially in the red zone (40 receptions, 480 yards, 8 TDs). Do I think Richard will reach these numbers this season? Probably not, but what he will do is offer versatility to this offense.
With Stanton Seckinger, Jordan Leggett, and McCullough in the game, they are a liability in blocking, and offer little in the passing game either. With DJ Greenlee or Cannon Smith, we lack a true explosive receiving threat and a player that can flex out; and if Rod Byers moseys back over to the offense, it's even more of the same. Richard should offer a solid blocking to go with some explosive play making ability.
In the end, this really isn't so much about Richard immediately breaking away and becoming the lone X-Factor for the tight end group, but it's more so his ability to enhance this group and to potentially begin to return us to the days of Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford in this offense. Yes, it is tough to rely on an unproven commodity, but our current group has left so much to be desired that I would say the door is wide open for Milan to make his mark. This offense explodes with a solid tight end and add in the playmakers this team has on the edge and the sharp QB play, the potential could be limitless. I look forward to seeing Richard on the field this fall and see what he can really do to be our Swiss Army knife.