Injuries once again thin out tight ends

Updated: August 6, 2003, 9:16 PM ET

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Imagine Mark Tommerdahl's dilemma, eagerly arriving at Texas A&M as tight ends coach and finding the tight ends depth chart almost devoid of experience.

Returning starter Thomas Carriger is the only tight end who has caught a college pass. He has two receptions in two seasons.

The search is on for tight ends -- a position that has been a bad luck spot for the Aggies because of injuries the past few years.

"We've got three weeks to find us a couple," Tommerdahl said following the Aggies' first fall practice Wednesday. "I know Thomas played last year, but we didn't see him take a step in the spring.

"In fairness to us, we don't know. Other than that we have some young guys and they are untested."

Coach Dennis Franchione calls tight end a mystery position. What happens in the fall workouts could determine how much it is a part of the offense.

Carriger and reserve Patrick Fleming both missed spring drills after shoulder surgery. They are back at practice along with Ryan White, Taylor Schuster and Andy Matakis, a linebacker converted to tight end during the spring.

White, a non-scholarship player who spent the past two seasons on the scout team, was at the top of the spring depth chart for Wednesday's workout.

"That was just a spring depth chart. I'll still have to prove myself with the guys coming back from injuries," White said.

He expects the tight end to be more involved in the offense this year.

"Tight ends have been unlucky here, but I believe mine (shoulder) is going to hold up," Carriger said. "I'm not worried about it. I feel I can go out there and play. It's just that we've had some injuries in the past."

Does he consider himself the starter?

"I have no idea. I just have to learn the plays and give it all I can," Carriger said.

Even Franchione's first recruiting class kept up the injury-prone image of the position. Joey Thomas, a tight end prospect from Austin Westlake, was injured before arriving on campus and wasn't on the 105-player list for fall practices.

Tight end was an important position at Alabama last season where Tommerdahl was an assistant with Franchione.

"Last year, at times there were three tight ends on the field at the same time, two in true tight end positions and another on as a fullback," Tommerdahl said.

"They've got to block like a tackle, they've got to be able to run the field like a receiver and they've got to protect like a running back."

The Aggies have experienced injuries and depth problems at tight end since Dan Campbell was drafted by the New York Giants following the 1998 season. Michael de la Torre from Katy, a promising tight end, never got a chance to fulfill his potential and had to quit football in 2001 because of injuries.

Quarterback Dustin Long also expects a good performance by the tight ends.

"We have a lot of one and two tight end stuff," Long said. "We have a couple of guys coming off surgery but they just got released and they're ready to go. As long as they come along we'll be right there."

Schuster, a redshirt freshman from Mission, hopes to see his first playing time after benefiting from Franchione's aggressive offseason weightlifting program.

"I think the strength and conditioning program we had over the summer is going to help a lot," Schuster said. "I don't think you'll see nearly as many injuries. A lot of people say it's going to be one of the weaknesses of the team but I don't see that.

"We have a starter coming back and all of us got better than we were last year so I think we'll be much better at that position." ^Notes:@ The Aggies completed their first workout in blistering heat and got a sign of approval from Franchione. "It was kind of a warm day but we can't worry about that, we might have to play at this temperature sometime," Franchione said. "They have to get mentally tough enough handle that and to focus when we're tired." Temperatures reached 97 with a heat index of 102. ... Derrick Brown, a freshman running back from Spring, suffered from swollen tonsils and couldn't complete the drill.

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