Catching the ball in a college football game isn’t totally new to Jalen Harris. After all, he did haul in two touchdown passes during his career at Auburn.
Like the rest of the Colorado tight ends, however, Harris is expecting to get a little more attention from the quarterback this year.
Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 1, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, the focus is on the tight ends.
Under the direction of first-year head coach Mel Tucker and new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, CU vows to use the tight end as a weapon much more than the Buffs have in the recent past. In an effort to get this group up to speed, Tucker hired former NFL tight end Al Pupunu to coach them.
Pupunu had a record-breaking career at Weber State before playing nine seasons in the NFL. He spent the past two years coaching his alma mater.
“He’ll be creative in utilizing the tight end in our offense, both in blocking and receiving,” Tucker said of Pupunu last winter.
Under previous head coach Mike MacIntyre, the tight end was a big part of the offense, but almost exclusively as blockers in recent years. CU tight ends caught a total of 17 passes in the last three years under MacIntyre.
This year, the Buffs tight ends – which bring a wide variety of skills to the table – could be used in several ways, and they’ll be expected to catch the ball.
“That’s what I like, being very multiple,” Pupunu said. “I’m going to require my tight ends to learn all the positions on the field because they could be in any one of those spots. You have to understand the whole concept of the play.”
By the end of spring practices in April, Pupunu said the group was “slowly” making improvements, but stressed that he was pleased with the continual growth.
“I like the group,” he said. “We just have to continue to get better.”
Harris is expected to be one of the leaders. As a graduate transfer with just one year to play, Harris was brought to CU to be a major part of the tight end rotation. He played in 42 games at Auburn – facing Tucker’s defenses at Alabama and Georgia – and was mainly a blocker, but did catch four passes for 33 yards and two touchdowns.
Harris spent much of the spring working on his pass-catching skills and said, “I think it went good. There’s always room for improvement, though. The coaches, they’ve been real patient, but we know it’s going to be a different sense of urgency (when the season approaches).
“I do feel like I’m getting there. I’m going to work my timing with (projected starting quarterback Steven Montez) and the rest of the quarterbacks during the summer and during fall camp we should be hitting the ground running.”
Senior Beau Bisharat, who moved from running back during spring practices, and sophomore Brady Russell also bring a good deal of game experience to the table. Like Harris, though, they haven’t caught a lot of passes. In fact, CU’s entire group of nine tight ends, counting walk-ons, has a grand total of 11 catches in Division I football games.
That number is likely to increase dramatically this year, as Johnson and Tucker have high regard for the value of the tight end.
“I think the tight ends are the MVP of the offense,” Johnson said after being hired last winter. “I want to see them be able to do some things in the pass game, but also they have to help us in the run game and they’ve got to help us in protection. They get to do it all. I put high regards on those guys and look for them to be helping us out.”
Position: Tight ends
Returners (2018 statistics)
Beau Bisharat, Sr., 6-2, 225 (1 catch, 4 yards, 1 TD; played RB last year)
Darrion Jones, Sr., 6-6, 255 (no catches; played in 7 games)
Jared Poplawski, So., 6-4, 235 (injured in 2018)
Brady Russell, So., 6-3, 255 (5 catches, 41 yards)
Derek Coleman, Jr., 6-5, 225 (walk-on; played in 1 game)
Jalen Harris, Sr., 6-4, 255 (transfer from Auburn)
Luke Stillwell, So., 6-4, 227 (JUCO transfer)
Legend Brumbaugh, So., 6-3, 225 (walk-on; transfer from Maryland)
C.J. Schmanski, Fr., 6-3, 230 (walk-on; redshirted)
Chris Bounds (left team during 2018 season; 1 catch, 15 yards)
2019 outlook: While there’s a lot of unknowns with this group, it’s also filled with intrigue. Harris brings a lot of big-time game experience from his time at Auburn and has all the physical tools to have a big year. Jones certainly looks the part, too, and is more comfortable as he comes into his second year with the program. Russell is a former walk-on who just does his job well. He flashed his ability at Washington last year (four catches, 23 yards) – about the only time CU threw to tight ends. Russell’s good enough to be the leader here, despite being a sophomore. Bisharat has played running back his entire career and is a bit undersized as a tight end, but he could be a matchup problem for some linebackers. Stillwell comes in as a late transfer and has some work to do physically to put on some weight and muscle, but shows a lot of promise. Then there’s Poplawski, who came to CU with a ton of promise two years ago, but injuries (ACL and shoulder) have kept him off the field. If he’s healthy, he’ll push for playing time.