No position along the Vanderbilt offense stands to gain more from the hiring of Derek Mason as head coach than the team's tight end. As a result, players like Steven Scheu and Davis Dudchock could be due for breakout seasons.
Mason's Stanford teams incorporated their tight ends as vertical weapons in the passing game. Part of that was due to some elite talent at the position in Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener, but their variation of the "West Coast Offense" made spreading the field a priority. In the last three years, Cardinal tight ends have made up for just over 30 percent of their team's passing offense. Vanderbilt's tight ends, on the other hand, have contributed just eight percent of the Commodores' receiving yards in that span - and a good amount of those came from Kris Kentera at H-Back.
That means that Scheu and graduate transfer Dudchock will have a chance to eclipse their career receiving marks with offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell opening up the field for Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers, and Johnny McCrary. Tight end may have been an afterthought under James Franklin, but it will be a focus now that Mason is at the helm. Here's who stands to benefit from that transition:
The Returning Starters
Steven Scheu (6'5", 250 lbs): Scheu led all Vanderbilt tight ends in receptions last season...with nine. The biggest catch of his career happened against Ole Miss when he scored a go-ahead touchdown with just 90 seconds left. He faded into the background after that two-catch, 42-yard performance as the 'Dores moved away from their tight ends later in the season. Scheu has good hands and can be a valuable weapon for a team that's willing to use him properly. 2014 could be a breakout year for the junior receiver.
Dillon van der Wal (6'6", 252 lbs): van der Wal has been used more as a blocker than a pass catcher over his Vanderbilt career. He only has one catch in his career, but he's seen plenty of playing time due to his ability to clear defenders out of the way along the edges. It's a stretch to think that he'll become a standout receiver in his senior year, but he'll be a valuable part of the team's offense even if he remains in his mostly anonymous role creating space for Vandy's tailbacks.
The Knowledgeable Transfer
Davis Dudchock (6'4", 245 lbs): Dudchock, a one-time Vanderbilt commit, rectified the mistake that disqualified him from playing in the Liberty and Music City Bowls by coming back to Nashville for a postgraduate season. He went to Stanford instead, where he played sparingly in his first three years thanks to the presence of NFL-bound tight ends Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. He had just five receptions last season but he'll bring valuable experience and the knowledge of working in the offensive system that Mason and his staff will be installing with the Commodores. He didn't come to Vandy to ride the pine, so expect him to be a significant part of this team's offense in 2014.
The Youth Movement
Nathan Marcus (6'5", 238 lbs): Marcus has earned praise for his work last spring and early this summer, and those improvements could result in playing time as a redshirt freshman this fall. He looks a bit like Kris Kentera did in the H-Back role last year, where he's stuck size-wise in between being a tight end and a big possession receiver. His strength is in the passing game, where he runs routes well and does a good job of adjusting to the ball when it's in the air. However, he's still the skinniest member of Vandy's TE corps, and run blocking could be a problem for him early in his career. Still, if he can get open over the middle then Mason and his staff will find a way to use him this season.
Blake Fromang (6'7", 288 lbs): Fromang played in 10 games last season as an offensive lineman, but Karl Dorrell liked his quickness enough to move him to tight end this fall. He's slimmed down a bit but should still be the team's move effective blocker at the position. He was quick as a lineman but that speed may not translate in his new role. Still, at 6'7" he can be a very effective red zone target if he can get his pass catching skills to match his blocking.
Mack Weaver (6'5", 255 lbs): Weaver was an effective defensive end in high school, but the Commodores decided to keep him at tight end thanks to his size and agility. He doesn't project to be a major offensive threat, but he has good hands and can rumble downfield after making a catch. His biggest asset right now is his size and physical play, which helps him not only seal off his blocks, but finish them as well. Weaver does several things well, and summer practices will tell whether or not he's polished those skills enough to make an impact against SEC opponents.
Mitch Parsons (6'3", 250 lbs): "Mitchy the Kid" may look like a swollen-up TinTin, but he's got much more offensive potential than the fictional Belgian dogowner. Parsons was an all-state performer in Colorado thanks to great hands that made him a weapon in the red zone. However, his blocking is still a bit of a question mark that could prevent him from seeing the field as a freshman. He was originally a member of Vandy's 2013 recruiting class but grayshirted, which will make this his first official season with the team. Parsons's receiving abilities could lead to a major role early in his career under a new regime that will be be looking to spread out the passing offense move than ever before.