With Tim Biere graduating and hoping to catch on in the NFL, Kansas University’s football program has an opening for a starting tight end.
After drawing attention near the end of his sophomore year, Biere was by far the most effective tight end for the Jayhawks during the past two seasons. In 22 games, nearly all starts, Biere recorded 550 yards and six touchdowns on 46 receptions during the past two seasons.
Although the Omaha, Neb., senior’s career statistics were modest and figure to wind up being like one-year totals in new KU coach Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense, Biere provided the Jayhawks with a known commodity and a reliable option at the position.
With him out of the picture and no obvious choice to step in behind him, the battle for playing time at tight end should be as intense as any this spring and summer.
That’s where newcomers Charles Brooks and Jordan Smith enter the picture. Brooks, a junior-college transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, and Smith, a high school senior from Waco, Texas, both signed with the Jayhawks on Feb. 1. And both are coming to Kansas expecting to contribute right away.
Of the two, Brooks’ maturity and college football experience might give him the slight advantage for now, but that only goes so far. Brooks spent most of his younger days as a basketball standout, but his size, speed and athleticism inspired him to follow in the footsteps of NFL standouts like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, all former hoopsters who made the transition to football at tight end.
Brooks, 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, said before signing day that he signed with KU because of Weis’ reputation for developing tight ends.
“The offense that coach Weis runs (is perfect for me),” Brooks said. “He throws the ball around a lot, and he’s got three or four tight ends who are in the NFL right now. He does a good job with the tight-end position and allows them a lot in the offense.”
Smith, 6-5, 238, who originally committed to KU when Turner Gill’s staff was still in place, fell in love with the idea of playing for Weis right away.
“Actually, when I first heard (KU hired Weis), that’s the first thing I thought of: He’s been around a pro system,” Smith said. “You look at the Patriots, their tight ends are breaking records, and it’s good to know that the guy they got uses tight ends. The tight end is not something that’s necessarily for every coach and every team. It’s just great to know that you have a guy that’s going to use you no matter what to benefit the team and get the program to where it needs to be.”
While Brooks and Smith plan to come to town guns blazing, they will have significant competition waiting for them — competition that could get a leg up by participating in spring practice with Weis and company.
Returning tight ends Jimmay Mundine and Trent Smiley both played during the 2011 season but combined for just eight catches, 94 yards and one touchdown.
Mundine, 6-2, 240, seems to have the highest ceiling of the tight ends already on KU’s roster. He red-shirted in 2010 and played in nine games last season, mostly during the final minutes of games. Mundine has struggled with consistency, both on and off the field, but if he can improve his focus, his big frame and athleticism make him an obvious candidate for more playing time.
Smiley, 6-4, 240, also red-shirted in 2010 and was used mostly in blocking situations during the 2011 season.
In addition to those four, KU also has red-shirt freshmen Scott Baron and Brandon Olson, along with fullback-turned-tight-end Justin Puthoff, a junior.
None of the existing tight ends plans to make way for the newcomers to take over the position, but the newcomers expect to make an immediate impact.
“Keep my speed, work on my hands, work on my feet, work on everything that’s gonna make me better before I even get there,” said Smith when asked what he planned to do between now and June. “My goal once I get there is to bust my butt in the weight room, bust my butt on the field, do everything I can so I can play that first year and help the team with whatever they need.”
Added Brooks: “I think I have a chance to play right away.”