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2018 FSU football preview: Tight ends

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This position group is short on experience but long on potential.

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

One.

That’s the career number of combined catches that the Seminoles will have returning at the tight end position. Not included in that number are receptions from Jonathan Vickers and Gabe Nabers. Those players have converted to tight end this year with the elimination of the fullback position under Willie Taggart’s new offensive scheme.

What happens to that catch statistic when you add those 2 players?

The total balloons up to 11.

While the number itself might be shocking, this is a situation that has been discussed since Taggart took the job at FSU in December. The loss of TEs Ryan Izzo (to the draft) and Mavin Saunders (transferred to Kansas) left the first-year head coach with both a lack of depth and experience at the position. He partially solved the depth problem by adding the aforementioned Vickers and Nabers.

How does Taggart deal with the lack of experience? That’s something that he hopes can be solved by unlocking some untapped potential.

Let’s take a look at who Taggart will be counting on this season.

Tre McKitty

Remember when I referenced the 1 catch at the beginning of the article? It came courtesy of Tre McKitty. McKitty is expected to be the main starter at tight end for the Seminoles. The 6’5 245 lb. sophomore is very athletic and fits perfectly with what Taggart is looking to do at the position. This is evidenced by how hard Taggart recruited him while he was the head coach at both USF and Oregon.

Although McKitty has only 1 catch to his name, he flashed potential at the end of the 2017 season and in spring practices. He was the only TE to make a reception during the Garnet and Gold Game when he hauled in 2 passes for a total of 60 yards. With the emphasis that is expected to be put on explosive plays, play-action, and RPO (run-pass option) concepts in this new offense, it is expected that McKitty will be one of the main beneficiaries.

Although his blocking ability is a bit of an unknown at this point, he is still expected to be one of the more important offensive players in 2018.

Naseir Upshur

Naseir Upshur seemed to be a classic case of the promising recruit who never quite lived up to his potential for one reason or another. He became the odd man out during Jimbo Fisher’s final days with the program. The former 4-star prospect made appearances on special teams but was largely unable to penetrate the tight end rotation. Upshur was looking like a forgotten man— until a new head coach took over.

Taggart’s arrival in Tallahassee seemed to rejuvenate Upshur about as much as any player on the roster. Reports on Upshur from spring practice were extremely promising, as he excelled at both blocking and receiving. Upshur, 6’2 and 235 lbs., is a versatile player whom Taggart could choose to deploy in a variety of ways. He will be called on to contribute as a receiver like McKitty and as a downhill run blocker. Every player started with a clean slate under Taggart, so if Upshur wants to finally make an impact in his junior year, he will need to translate his blue chip potential to on-field results. It looks like he’ll definitely have his chance in 2018.

Jonathan Vickers

The senior from Quincy, FL moves to tight end after spending his whole career at running back and fullback. Vickers currently has 9 career catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. It is unclear just how well he will adapt to this new position, but his maturity should help. During his time as a back, Vickers has shown that he’s comfortable with moving and blocking in space. However, at 6’1 and 241 lbs., length may be an issue if he is asked to block some of the more imposing defensive ends that the ’Noles will face. Some of this may be mitigated if Vickers is used in more of an H-back role, as opposed to spending most of his time on the line of scrimmage like a traditional TE.

Gabe Nabers

Nabers, 6’3 and 240 lbs., is also making the transition from fullback to tight end in 2018. He caught 1 pass in 2017 for 2 yards and a touchdown. That was the only reception of his college career, as he has mostly been a contributor on special teams during his time as a Seminole. Nabers has more size than Vickers, so he has the potential to be the more effective blocker out of the 2 FB converts. The lack of game experience on offense and his ability to move in space will be the biggest question marks surrounding how effective he will be at his new job.

Alexander Marshall

Marshall medically redshirted last season after suffering an injury to his hand. The freshman has an impressive frame at 6’8 and 237 lbs. He came to Florida State as a raw prospect who was going to greatly benefit from a collegiate strength and conditioning program. It remains to be seen if Marshall will be able to contribute this year as a young player in a brand new system. He definitely has the physical tools, but will most likely need some more seasoning before his impact will truly be felt.

Camren McDonald

The first tight end recruited by Taggart as FSU’s head coach comes to the team from Long Beach, CA. The 6’4 221 lb. true freshman was a major receiving threat in high school, as he racked up over 600 yards on 35 catches during his senior year. McDonald will need to add weight and acquire the strength necessary to block Power-5 defensive linemen. He is definitely a player to keep your eye on in the coming years.

What should ’Nole fans expect?

As detailed throughout this article, tight end is one of the bigger areas of ambiguity on this football team. If you’re a believer that past production is the best predictor of future results, then this is a position group that might give you cause for concern. Conversely, if you subscribe to the theory that talent can overcome most gaps in experience, then this situation is less worrisome.

One thing that Seminole fans should expect is that the tight end will be a featured part of this offense. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell said as much during his preseason press conference on August 5th. It figures to be a stark contrast from the previous regime, in regard to where the tight ends will line up and how they will be used. Right now, McKitty is the preseason favorite to lead this group in all major statistical categories. But, behind him, the depth chart is wide open.

Only time will tell which players will step up and which will be left behind.