New tight ends progressing for Sooners

There were times last December when it appeared Oklahoma might have to run four- or five-receiver sets for the majority of the 2012 season.

The Sooners' tight end depth had been crippled during the 2011 season. James Hanna and Trent Ratterree were about to complete their eligibility in the Insight Bowl, Austin Haywood had left the team, and an injury forced Max Stevenson to leave the program. Those departures left no scholarship tight ends on the roster.

Now, heading into the spring game, there’s depth and optimism at the position.

Tight ends Brannon “Moose” Green and Taylor MaNamara appear poised to help the Sooners this fall after enrolling in January.

“For both of them to be here for a few months, they’ve done a wonderful job,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “They both have phenomenal hands.”

Green, a junior college transfer, has made the easiest transition into the program because of his experience at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. The best blocker of the two, at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Green should make an immediate impact in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

“He’s more of the physical, edge-presence guy,” tight ends coach Bruce Kittle said. “He’s not quite as fluid as Taylor is, but he has a great set of hands. He’s very predicable with his routes, he runs pretty good routes, and when he does get open, he catches the ball.”

While Green has proven to be more experienced and ready to play this spring, McNamara has the potential to be a factor in OU’s passing attack if he continues to improve.

“He’s got a ways to mature,” Kittle said. “It’s hard. You get punched in the face twice, on separate plays, and thrown on your back by David King ... the world is not a very nice place here some days. But you have to pick yourself up and fight through that. He keeps responding, keeps coming back.”

It’s been a rough transition for McNamara as homesickness and getting used to college life has been difficult. The early enrollee was a four-star recruit on ESPN after starring at San Diego, Calif./Westview, and picked the Sooners because he recognized the opportunity to play early and compete for championships.

“It’s quite an adjustment moving from San Diego,” Kittle said. “A couple of weeks ago he came in and said, ‘You know, I finally stopped hating OU this week.’ I didn’t know he hated it, but I knew it was pretty overwhelming for him.”

Homesickness aside, McNamara has shown flashes of the pass-catching ability that made him one of the top prep tight ends in the nation last season.

“He’s very fluid in open space, he’s a very good athlete,” Kittle said. “He’s holding his own.”

Kittle hopes McNamara can gain 10 pounds -- “he needs to get stronger," the coach says -- during the summer so he can enter fall camp at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. Even though he has struggled with the transition to college football, McNamara has shown enough talent to make an impact in 2012.

“He was a guy who was committed to coming in early and trying to give himself an advantage,” Kittle said. “It’s important to him, he wants to play and he’s going to be one of the guys in the rotation, playing for us this fall.”