Among the Baylor coaching staff, an expectation built that the tight end would be more of a factor in the offense than under the previous regime.
Seven games into the season, though, the tight end has been nearly nonexistent in the Bears’ passing game. Jordan Feuerbacher has caught two passes all season, which accounts for the entirety of the receptions made by Baylor tight ends.
So, what gives? Did the new Baylor offense evolve, or have there been reasons for the tight ends’ limited receiving impact?
Answers — yes, and yes.
“We’ve had some plays in, and we’ve had plays that we ran that just haven’t panned out or come our way,” Feuerbacher said. “But I feel like at the beginning of the season we had a lot of bad luck. I was in the club (cast) for three, four, five weeks, whatever it was. Ish (Wainright) got sick. I think it’s been more of a thing of bad luck, really, and not getting started on that right foot, more than anything.”
A broken hand stunted Feuerbacher’s progress. Another tight end Rob Saulin fit as more of a blocker than a receiving threat, and shifted to the offensive line to help that depleted unit. Then he went down with injury, too. Former Baylor basketball player Ish Wainright missed several weeks with illness, and has yet to bring down a catch despite being targeted at various points.
“I know we took three or four shots at Ish in the game, even going back to the last play of the last game, where we threw a corner route to Ish and he wasn’t able to come down with it,” Rhule said. “Then, we took a shot in the red zone to him and took another shot in the red zone to him, so we’re trying to utilize his size and athleticism, but it hasn’t really clicked yet.”
A missed connection doesn’t always fall on the receiver. Quarterback Zach Smith looked to Wainright on consecutive passes in the second quarter against West Virginia, including a short toss that just had too much heat on it to be catch-able.
But given his size (6-5, 260), intelligence and athletic ability, Wainright — who caught a touchdown pass in Baylor’s spring game — has the potential to present problems for opposing defenses.
“I think that Ish has all the athleticism and build and height in the world that you could ask for in a tight end,” Feuerbacher said. “I know, off the top of my head, a few power forward-type, small forward-type college basketball players who have had success in the (NFL). I think of guys like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, some of those greats even. I think he has the most potential of anyone at the position (at Baylor), for sure. … It’s a process.”
Baylor’s offense has occasionally shifted and changed shape like an amoeba. Injuries have prompted shuffling, and the Bears have used more four wide receiver formations than initially projected. With freshman R.J. Sneed joining Chris Platt as one of the injury casualties in the receiving corps, the passing game will have to continue to adapt.
“We have to figure out who that new person (in four-receiver sets) is going to be,” Rhule said.
Baylor doesn’t intend to forget about the tight end as a receiving option. The coaches want to utilize every weapon available in the arsenal. But it’s safe to say that the tight ends’ production level — and the offense as a whole — is a work in progress.
“I think it’s just had to evolve every week,” Feuerbacher said. “You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Who do we have this week that’s healthy?’ You take it from there, and you say, let’s match that with what they do on defense and what we want to do on offense. It’s kind of like putting a new puzzle together.
“Every week you have to do that, you have to match the personnel and the game plan accordingly. I know that’s been tough on (the coaches), it’s been tough on us, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Bear Facts: Baylor coach Matt Rhule said Wednesday that Zach Smith would “definitely” start at quarterback for Saturday’s home game with Texas, but that freshman Charlie Brewer would likely see some action. … Defensive ends Jamie Jacobs (shoulder injury) and Deonte Williams (hamstring) are probable for the game. … The Dollar General Big 12 Championship Tour will make a stop at Baylor this week. The event will feature tailgate games, giveaways and prizes for fans, and will offer the opportunity for fans to take photos with the Big 12 championship trophy. Former BU quarterback Seth Russell and local chef Robert Smith will also be on hand. The event runs from 8-11 a.m. at the Brazos Parking area off Martin Luther King Drive.