Watching his team take the field at McLane Stadium for the first time this summer, Baylor co…
Jordan Feuerbacher sometimes felt like a spectator in Baylor’s passing offense.
During his first three seasons at Baylor, he caught nine passes in an offense that tossed the ball around liberally. Most of those passes went to wide receivers like Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, not tight ends like Feuerbacher.
But with the emergence of first-year coach Matt Rhule’s pro-style offense, Feuerbacher and fellow tight ends like former Baylor basketball player Ish Wainright and Stephen F. Austin transfer Jayson Clements should see a lot more passes thrown their way this season.
“With the last offense we were in, we weren’t featured as much in the passing game,” Feuerbacher said. “This gives us more opportunities to do more things and help the offense. We’ve taken it with a lot of pride and said, ‘Hey, this is our opportunity. Let’s go out there and work hard and show we can contribute to this offense like we haven’t before.’”
It wasn’t that former coach Art Briles completely excluded tight ends during his eight seasons at Baylor. One of the most memorable moments of his tenure was when 6-7, 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan shocked Michigan State by catching an 18-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Petty in the 2015 Cotton Bowl.
Though Baylor’s tight ends had some big moments in Briles’ spread offense, they weren’t the critical component they’ll be in both Rhule’s pro-style and spread schemes. Baylor tight ends coach Joey McGuire has seen the excitement in his players beginning in spring drills all the way through preseason practice this summer.
“You see these guys enthusiasm, even in the spring,” McGuire said. “Those guys were really excited. I would bet, all the way through spring to this practice, we’ve maybe taken 20 reps without a tight end in the game. They’re doing a really good job of being in great shape and learning the offense.”
McGuire joined Rhule’s staff after 14 highly successful seasons as Cedar Hill High School’s head coach where he won three state championships. Before becoming a head coach, McGuire was an assistant at several positions including tight ends coach.
“It’s new to me to get back to that old 26-year-old coach that used to coach the tight ends,” McGuire said. “It’s a lot of fun. As far as the offense, it’s a lot like what we ran at Cedar Hill. We ran a lot of tight end, a lot of H-back, a lot of power, a lot of counter. The only transition is the verbiage. The verbiage is totally different, so it’s learning a whole new language.”
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While the Baylor tight ends are thrilled about the opportunity to catch more passes, one of their biggest tasks will be as blockers in the running game. They all have good size as Feuerbacher stands 6-4 and 271 pounds, Wainright 6-5 and 256 pounds, Clements 6-3 and 227 pounds and freshman Tyler Henderson 6-4 and 231 pounds.
“They’re going to have to be able to do it all,” McGuire said. “But No. 1, if you put a tight end in the game, you’re supposed to be able to change the front. They’ve got to account for him in the blocking game in that scheme. So I think they’ve got to do a great job blocking.”
Armed with the most experience, Feuerbacher is the leader of the group and was named to the John Mackey Award preseason watch list. Feuerbacher isn’t afraid to ask questions since he wants to coach.
“Jordan was one of the few guys that I had in the room whenever we first got here that was recruited to be a tight end,” McGuire said. “We had some guys that played some other positions that moved into the room. I love Jordan. He wants to be a coach, so he’s really soaking up a lot of stuff. He asks a lot of really good questions. Not just X’s and O’s, but why do we do certain things?”
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Feuerbacher likes teaching the younger players the knowledge he’s gained in four years at Baylor. He’s taken Wainright under his wing. Wainright joined the football team in April just before the spring game after helping the Baylor men’s basketball team reach the Sweet 16 as a senior.
Since he hasn’t played football since his freshman year at Raytown South High School in the Kansas City area, Wainright has a lot of catching up to do. But Feuerbacher likes the passion Wainright brings to practice every day.
“I had a lot of questions and he came out here and exceeded my expectations from the start from everything,” Feuerbacher said. “He comes to work in meetings, he comes to work in practice. He came to work this summer in the weight room. He’s taken it extremely seriously and I think that bumps up the competition in the room, bumped up the optimism.”
Wainright hopes to get a shot to play in the NFL next season like former Baylor basketball player Rico Gathers who is trying to make the Dallas Cowboys as a tight end. Wainright is taking postgraduate courses at Baylor after earning his bachelor’s degree in May, and married former Baylor softball player Ari Hawkins in July.
He’s trying to reach a point where playing tight end comes naturally to him instead of thinking about every move he makes on the field.
“I’m starting to kick this up a little more and play freely,” Wainright said. “I might mess up but I’ll learn from the mistake I just did and watch film. Football is a little bit different because I have so much weight on me: pads, helmet, cleats, pants, everything. We’re also outside. We’re in the heat. It feels like 120 degrees right now.”
Though Wainright played against physical basketball players like Gathers in practice, there are a lot more bruisers on the football field. Just dealing with Baylor’s linebacking corps every day in practice is a challenge.
“In football, there’s more contact, more pounding every single play,” Wainright said. “Right down the field you have Clay Johnston wrapping you up and trying to throw you to the ground before you even get past him. Taylor Young is trying to take your head off before you can take two steps. It’s just every single play is head to head.”
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Wainright showed his catching ability by making a leaping 23-yard touchdown catch from freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer in the spring game. But he’s been working on his blocking skills.
“Knowing who to block, when to block and how to block,” Wainright said. “Coach McGuire has helped me out a lot, Jordan (Feuerbacher) has helped me out. To be honest I sit there and watch them on film.”
Wainright said he doesn’t get preferential treatment from the Baylor coaches after getting considerable media attention following his move from basketball to football.
“They don’t treat me any different,” Wainright said. “Coach Rhule got on me earlier today because I missed a block. Coach McGuire gets on me every day, and that’s what I want. I don’t want to be treated like a celebrity out here. I’m going to compete like the other guys. They’re all pushing me.”
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The Bears lost some experience at tight end when sophomore Sam Tecklenburg moved to center. However, fullback Kyle Boyd and offensive lineman Rob Saulin can also play tight end if the Bears need help. Clements and Henderson also add depth behind Feuerbacher and Wainright.
“I feel like I have a more important role in the offense, I think we all do,” Feuerbacher said. “I know we have a bunch of guys who can catch the ball who probably weren’t being utilized as much as they could in the past few years. We’re all excited for it and it’s a fun feeling knowing you’re going to be counted on in the passing game as well as blocking.”