Editor’s note: Texas Tech begins spring football practice on March 5. This is the sixth in a series of spring football previews.
Texas Tech coaches watched from afar Saturday as tight end Jace Amaro gave a good account of himself at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. It was just another reminder of the rare individual talent the Red Raiders have to replace next season.
Not that it’s realistic to duplicate what Amaro delivered in his final year: 106 catches, 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns.
Tech will open spring practice next week with senior Bradley Marquez and sophomore Dylan Cantrell taking Amaro’s spot at Y inside receiver. Neither bears a physical resemblance to the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Amaro, Marquez being 5-11, 200 pounds and Cantrell 6-3, 205.
With no Amaro clones on the roster, the Red Raiders will try to take advantage of what their smaller slot receivers do well.
“There were times last year where Jace was definitely the (safety net) for those young quarterbacks,” offensive coordinator Eric Morris said. “Third downs and stuff, he was such a big target. We did a couple of things here and there to cater to what Jace was good at.
“But for the most part it’ll be the same, and we can stretch the field probably a little bit better now with Marquez in there and Dylan in there, some guys that probably run a little bit better than Jace.
“You’ll see us go back to some of the concepts we’ve done forever, stretching the field-wise, with those inside guys down the seam.”
Though Amaro represents a substantial loss, the Red Raiders will have a reasonably experienced two-deep at both inside receiver positions with Marquez and Cantrell at Y and Jakeem Grant and Jordan Davis at H.
Marquez (49 catches, 633 yards, six touchdowns in 2013), Grant (65-796-7) and Davis (28-243-1) all put up numbers last season.
Marquez did it as the starting flanker, but coaches want to free up a starting spot for sophomore Reginald Davis. So Davis will take over at flanker, and coaches are looking to Marquez, with his maturity and knowledge of the offense, to fill Amaro’s old position.
“This will be the third position (Marquez) knows,” said Morris, who coaches the receivers. “He’s a super smart kid that you tell him once, he knows it, goes out there, executes it.
“We’ll move him inside so he has those reps and understands the ‘Y’ position. We’ll let him and Dylan battle, and if Dylan wins that competition, then Bradley can bump just about anywhere he wanted.”
Cantrell was one of the team’s most promising freshmen in the fall, adjusting to the speed of the game and learning how to set up routes. He got into 11 games, catching nine passes for 70 yards.
At the other inside position, the 5-6, 160-pound Grant is coming off a year in which he put up career highs, but was taken out of the starting lineup for the regular-season finale at Texas.
He’s responded the way coaches wanted.
“Since he didn’t start at the end of the season, Jakeem’s been a whole new man,” Morris said. “Some kids go in the dumps when you sit them down and some kids respond and are better than they’ve ever been. Jakeem was definitely the latter.
“We didn’t love the way he was practicing at the time and kind of thought he had the job sewn up. Since that day he didn’t start, he’s come to work every single day and worked as hard or harder than anybody we have on our team.”
Jordan Davis is a cinch to be in the rotation, as the No. 2 H and as the fifth receiver in empty backfield sets. Davis’ 2013 numbers would have been better except he was out or limited for five games in the first half of the season with a hamstring injury, then an ankle.
“Jordan did a really good job later on in the year,” Morris said. “He’s a really savvy guy that runs really good routes. He’s a smart football player, understands space really well — as well as anybody we have. He’s definitely proven himself, and we’ve got to find ways to get him on the field and get him some touches.”
Redshirt freshman Zach Austin and junior Brad Pearson from Monterey will battle for the third spot at Y. Brent Mitcham is the third H.
Pearson caught four passes for 51 yards last season. Mitcham played in nine games, mostly on special teams. Austin is a walk-on from Lake Travis, where he caught passes from former Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Austin received Associated Press honorable mention all-state recognition as a junior with 72 catches, 1,340 yards and 16 touchdowns for a 16-0 state championship team. In a shortened senior year, he caught 17 passes for 428 yards and seven TDs.
“He’s a good little player that’s finally getting over knee surgery (from) his senior year,” Morris said. “He tore his ACL. He’s running good again.”
Besides Amaro, three other receivers with eligibility remaining are no longer on the team: 2013 signee Carlos Thompson and walk-ons Jacob Hurla and Hunter Weishuhn from Seminole.
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