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The Cavaliers' new assistant coach Tom O'Brien is looking to Jake McGee and other tight ends to start blocking.
Jake McGee started only three games last season, but finished with 28 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns.]
“He gets on you but he’s teaching you and he knows exactly what he’s doing,” Jake McGee said about coach Tom O’Brien.
Friday, March 29, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Tom O’Brien hadn’t seen George Welsh in a while before their paths crossed Friday at the McCue Center, the base for Virginia’s football operations.
“Got a tight end who can block yet?” Welsh asked O’Brien in his customarily abrupt fashion.
Welsh, still the winningest coach in UVa history after 12 years of retirement, was once O’Brien’s boss. Now, O’Brien has returned to Charlottesville as an assistant to Mike London, who put O’Brien in charge of tight ends.
“There was no ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ ” said O’Brien of his exchange with Welsh. “Just ‘got a tight end who can block yet?’ All I could tell him was, ‘I’m working on it.’ ”
Fortunately, O’Brien has a tight end who can catch in 6-foot-5, 235-pound Jake McGee, who last year had 28 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns.
Although no other UVa tight end had more than eight receptions, it might surprise some people to know that McGee started only three games last season or that he was third in offensive snaps behind two senior tight ends, Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman.
On the day that he caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in Virginia’s 17-16 victory over Penn State, McGee played a total of 11 offensive plays, one resulting in a 44-yard grab that kept alive the winning drive.
In UVa’s season finale, a 17-14 loss at Virginia, McGee played eight offensive plays.
“Right now, I don’t think I’m going to come off the field, so that’s my mindset going in,” said McGee, a rising junior from Richmond’s Collegiate School. “My goal is to be able play every play, run or pass.”
If O’Brien had to give McGee a grade at this point, it would be “incomplete.”
“I haven’t seen enough of him,” said O’Brien, noting that McGee misses the last 40 minutes of weekday practices during the spring because he has a 10 a.m. class.
“I don’t know if he can block anybody. By not practicing, he’s not getting a chance to pick up the techniques and fundamentals. He’s behind in some of those aspects.”
McGee won’t have a class conflict when the Cavaliers convene for pre-season practice in early August, but there are other matters that need his attention, according to O’Brien, who wants McGee to get together with a nutritionist.
“If he’s going to be the guy that he has to be, he can’t weigh 230,” O’Brien said. “I’d say 250 or 255 is where he has to be. He’s not big enough now.”
UVa’s other tight ends during spring drills have been Zach Swanson, converted defensive end Ryan Burns and junior walk-on Jeremy Dollin, who shares O’Brien’s Cincinnati roots and played tight end in high school.
“Thank God for Jeremy Dollin,” O’Brien said. “No one [else] has ever done this before.”
Swanson (6-6, 255) started at fullback last season.
“There’s not a tight end here who has played with his hand on the ground,” O’Brien said. “We need to find a guy who can be a blocking tight end and a receiving tight end.”
McGee understands the mission that is in front of him.
“I did less [blocking] last year but we had more,” he said. “We had other tight ends who excelled in that but now I’m ready to take on the role.”
When McGee entered games last year, his arrival invariably came on passing downs and teams adjusted their coverages accordingly.
“I have to be able to do everything that’s asked so the defense won’t know what’s coming,” he said. “It should help me out.”
Vince Croce, a 6-4, 275-pound sophomore, moved from defense to offense after the season but has played fullback and not tight end, his position at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md.
“We needed fullbacks, too,” said O’Brien, who is the Cavaliers’ associate head coach for offense. “From what I can tell, they recruited tight ends who stood up and ran down the field.”
The prototypical tight end for O’Brien, the head coach at North Carolina State from 2007-2012, was 6-5, 265-pound George Bryan, a two-time All-ACC selection who had more than 120 receptions during his Wolfpack career.
McGee may not picture himself as a 265-pounder, “but it’s great to have a guy like [O’Brien] coaching you. He gets on you but he’s teaching you and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“When you have a guy like that coming into your position round, you listen.”
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