Texas Tech football: Why we should expect more out of the Red Raider TEs

Texas Tech's tight end Mason Tharp (80) catches a touchdown pass from Texas Tech's quarterback Tyler Shough (12 against Kansas in a Big 12 football game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Texas Tech's tight end Mason Tharp (80) catches a touchdown pass from Texas Tech's quarterback Tyler Shough (12 against Kansas in a Big 12 football game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium. /

If the Texas Tech football team wanted to try to show its power by pulling the old tactic of having its most physically imposing players get off of the team bus first, then tight ends Mason Tharp and Baylor Cupp would be near the front of the line.  However, we are still waiting for these two gifted athletes to become difference-makers on a consistent basis.  Fortunately, there is reason to believe that the tight ends will be much more impactful in 2023 than it has been in recent Red Raider history.

Last year, Cupp and Tharpe put up almost identically pedestrian numbers.  Each caught only 12 passes and found the endzone twice while Cupp amassed 132 receiving yards and Tharp cobbled together 100.  That’s far from what those two player’s pedigrees suggest they should be capable of.

Cupp was a 5-star prospect in the class of 2019 out of Brock, Texas.  247Sports ranked him the No. 1 tight end and No. 53 overall player in the nation.  Originally signing with Texas A&M, he also had offers from powerhouse programs like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Penn State, and USC among others.

However, injuries ruined his three years in College Station and set him back on the A&M depth chart prompting him to seek a new home.  Of course, he found that in Lubbock where he appeared in 12 of 13 games last fall, a step forward given that he had managed to play in only 10 games with the Aggies.

Meanwhile, Tharp was also highly regarded as a recruit.  Rated as the No. 27 tight end in the nation and the No. 82 player in Texas in the class of 2021 by 247Sports, he held offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Duke, Iowa State, Michigan State, and Utah among others.

As a true freshman, he opened some eyes with 14 receptions for 198 yards and a TD.  However, his numbers fell off a bit last season.

Now standing 6-foot-9 after having grown two inches during his time as Red Raider, he’s also put on serious weight to tip the scales at 270 pounds, 45 pounds heavier than he weighed as a recruit.  Now paired with the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Cupp to give Tech one of the most physically impressive tight end rooms in the nation, it is time for these players to become game changers.

So far, the only truly impactful plays made by either have been the 4th-quarter TD that Cupp scored to tie last year’s game against Texas and the 4th-quarter TD he hauled in to help the Red Raiders beat Iowa State later in the season.

We could be in for more game-changing plays from Cupp and Tharp this season, though, and there are two reasons why.

Why this will be a bigger year for the Texas Tech tight ends

Last season, two factors outside of the tight ends’ control limited the opportunities that Cupp and Tharp got in the passing game.  This year, it is believed that both factors will be vastly improved.

First, there was the season-long struggle of the offensive line.  With Tech giving up more sacks than any other Big 12 team in 2022, often, Cupp and Tharp were asked to function as a sixth offensive lineman on passing plays helping one of the two tackles keep pressure off of the quarterback.

This season, the belief is that the line is going to be worlds better than it was 12 months ago.  The additions of Western Kentucky transfers Rusty Staats and Cole Spencer have brought experience to the line and improved the talent Tech will have in the trenches.

Also, the Red Raiders believe that flipping tackles Caleb Rogers and Monroe Mills while sliding Dennis Wilburn from center to right guard will be moves that bring the best out of all three of those players.  Thus far, the reviews have been positive.

In fact, McGuire raved about his offensive line’s performance in the team’s first intra-squad scrimmage earlier this month.  Thus, there’s reason to believe that the tight ends will be utilized in a more dynamic manner this season as they no longer have to help the tackles in pass protection.

Additionally, more stability at the QB position would give the tight ends better opportunities to shine.  When Tech had to start three different QBs for at least four games in 2022, it disrupted the timing and cohesion of the passing game.

Each QB has receivers he is comfortable with given the number of practice and game reps they have had together.  So having a new starting QB for what amounted to each month of last season was no way to get the best out of any Red Raider pass catcher.

This year, the hope is that Shough will stay on the field for a full season, which would be a first for his Red Raider career.  Should that happen, the tight ends (and all of the other receivers) will benefit statistically.

Now, don’t expect either Cupp or Tharp to be featured in the offense.  There simply are too many mouths to feed on this team.  That’s why it is unlikely that either will have a massive year like former Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro put up in 2013 when he dominated the Big 12.

Rather, they will likely be timely players who show up in critical moments, especially near the goal line where their size will be a nightmare for opposing teams to defend.  Now with a better cast around them and with more QB stability (we hope), this could be the year that we finally see what these talented tight ends can do when they are unleashed.

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