By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
NORMAN, Okla. —
When Taylor McNamara signed with the University of Oklahoma two years ago, he had reason to be excited as the Sooners’ future tight end.
OU had been known for its tight ends under head coach Bob Stoops. Jermaine Gresham was the No. 1 draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010.
“I wanted to be like those guys and make plays,’’ said McNamara, who came to OU from San Diego’s Westview High School.
McNamara started against Florida A&M in the third game of his first year at OU, but was injured and almost forgotten as the Sooners practically took the tight end — once a staple — out of their offense.
He was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA after the 2012 season, but didn’t catch the first pass of his career until he made a four-yard reception against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
“It wasn’t very fun,’’ McNamara said. “It was a tough experience for two years ... the transition (to college) was really tough because of the injury. That’s not the way I had it scripted. I just kept working and kept grinding.’’
His patience paid off Saturday when he had touchdown receptions of one yard from Cody Thomas and eight yards from Baker Mayfield in the White team’s 28-13 win over the Red team Saturday in OU’s annual spring game.
McNamara caught three passes for 16 yards, about the number of receptions OU’s tight ends had in all of 2013.
“It felt good,’’ he said. “You want to keep progressing and getting better,’’ he said. “I feel I am getting better. I think it’s from being older and maturing. I feel more confident.
“It’s a lot different from the last two years. It helps me. It gives me a little more motivation and a little more confidence.’’
Stoops said the 6-foot-5 McNamara, along with converted 6-foot-6 quarterback Blake Bell, will help create mismatches.
“He’s like a lot of young guys,’’ Stoops said. “He’s getting stronger and more mature in what we’re asking them to do. His technique is improving. It was good to see him make a few big plays when we needed him to.’’
McNamara said “the offense will do a lot of different things,’’ in 2014, especially with the tight ends.
“The more things you can do the better,’’ he said. “It’s kind of a combination of the guys we’ve got in. With Blake, Dimitri (Flowers), Rip (Aaron Ripkowski) and a bunch of other guys like Connor Knight (Trevor’s twin brother), we’ve got a bunch of guys who can make plays.’’
He said the tight ends have helped and supported each other as a unit and hopes Bell, who recently tweaked a knee, will be back soon.
He does understand why the tight ends almost disappeared from the offense.
“Part of it was the receivers we had,’’ he said. “You had guys like Jalen (Saunders), Jaz (Reynolds) and Sterling (Shepard, who returns). Obviously, you’re going to be playing your top 11 guys.’’
Second-year assistant coach Jay Boulware has helped his progress “a lot,’’ McNamara said.
“He pushes us,’’ McNamara said. “I didn’t know him because he didn’t recruit me, but he knows what he’s doing.’’
McNamara “doesn’t even think about’’ whether he’s a blocker or a receiver first. He said he understands he has to be more physical to be effective at the position.
“You have to be able to do both,’’ he said. “If we’re going to play at a high level, we have to have a running game.’’
He said he is adjusting better to defenses. He said all four quarterbacks — Trevor Knight, Thomas, Mayfield and Justice Hansen threw the ball well.
“It was just a lot of fun today,’’ McNamara said.