Previously - Quarterbacks, Fullbacks, Running Backs.
When Coach Brewster made the decision to switch from a predominantly spread-based formation to a pro-style offense, it could be argued two positions were positively affected more than any other on offense: fullback and tight end. We all learned the importance of the two positions in the Fisch offense, as they were both needed to assist in pass protection on a regular basis, thereby thwarting most attempts, Sparty aside, at a downfield passing game.
The fullback position is being manned by a returning starter in 2010. There is a little more uncertainty surrounding the tight end position. First, the Gophers are beginning the painful process of de-Tow-Arnetting themselves (to be completed in 2011) by losing their second leading receiver, Nick, who caught 37 passes for 505 yards and 3 TDs (including a pair of TDs against Sparty that stick in the memory). Second, highly regarded and guru approved redshirt freshman Ra'Shede Hageman (how approved? Try reported offers from Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and FLORIDA) is now reportedly up to about 290 pounds and is expected to permanently switch to defensive end. Taking that news glass half-full would indicate that the coaches have confidence in the other TEs on the roster, as well as those who are incoming. Let's see if it's warranted.
The Presumed Starter - Eric Lair (Junior) - Lair played in eight games in 2009, catching two balls for 20 yards. At 6 foot 3, 230 pounds, he has an ideal build for a blocking TE. Ideally, he could become a somewhat regular option in the middle zone or stretching a linebacker wide. He is still an unknown, however, but has good upside.
The Backups - Curtis Hughes (Senior), Collin McGarry (Senior) - Neither of these guys played a snap in 2009 outside of special teams, according to the Gophers' stats releases. That corresponds completely to my memory of the 2009 season. I would be surprised if they played beyond mop-up time or again on special teams.
The New Guy - Tiree Eure (Lackawanna CC) - part of the Lackawanna pipeline that brought you Jeff Wills and also brought in DBs Herschel Thornton and Dwight Tillman this recruiting cycle, Eure is a 6'7", 242 lb. beanpole (why can I say this? I'm also 6'7" and weigh 235 pounds). He was moderately guru approved (3 star to Rivals), and sported offers from Colorado, Syracuse, UConn, Purdue and Rutgers. I would expect he'll play from the start, and would be expected to be more of a downfield threat than Lair. Note: Middle Tennessee State's top three returning secondary members are 5-10, 6-0 and 6-1. End zone jump balls anyone? Settle in quickly pleez, Tiree.
Overall Grade - Ack. How about a.........C-? I would give this position group an A on potential if Hageman were staying on offense. However, there is a huge hole at this position coming in 2012 with no TEs in the freshman or sophomore classes on the roster. This is a significant issue for a Wisconsin-style power offense (given that Horton and Davis are both from Wisconsin, that's what I'm calling it). Brewster went for and struck out on a few high-end TE recruits in the weak 2010 cycle (Alex Smith stayed at home to play at Cincinnati, Jerome Lewis went to Virginia Tech, and Sean Fitzpatrick signed for North Carolina), and seeing this roster imbalance makes the Hageman decision courageous yet curious. Getting a TE that can redshirt in 2011 and take the field as a RS freshman in 2012 is essential (Brewster has a 2011 offer out to Brookfield (WI) TE Sam Rohr - bad clothes, nice shades).
Looking instead at 2010, the depth chart shows an unproven potential starter, two guys who haven't played a down on offense since 2008, and a JUCO transfer, which provides equal parts excitement (Simmons and Lawrence) and trepidation (Pittman and Carpenter thus far). The ceiling for the tight ends in 2010 is, again, largely dependent on others. If the offensive line can pass protect, Lair and Eure will be free to run passing routes and provide another option for Weber in the passing game. If the guards can't stop the pass rush, the tight ends will not be as greatly utilized in space in 2010. It's obvious from 2009 that the position is a key cog of a Fisch-turned-Horton/Davis offense. The hope here is that the line permits Lair, Eure and the others to fulfill that promise.