If there is one position that has been a staple of Marshall football over the past few seasons, one needs to look no farther than the tight ends. Greats such as Cody Slate, Gator Hoskins, Lee Smith and Eric Frohnapfel laid the foundation for one of the most consistent contributors to the Herd's offensive aerial attack.
Of recent years, none was better inside the redzone than Gator Hoskins. In his final two seasons with the Herd, he led the team in touchdowns, hauling in 15 in 2013 and 10 in 2012 while collecting 28 over his stellar career. Frohnapfel succeeded Hoskins in 2014, catching half of his 10 career scores in his senior season. Now its Ryan Yurachek's turn to tote the load and the incoming junior is carrying the it rather well. The Myrtle Beach native had a breakout season in 2015, catching a team-leading nine touchdowns on 44 grabs. Now lets look at what 2016 holds for the junior and who will complement him.
Ryan Yurachek, JR: 6-3, 233: 44-417, 9 TD: Its no secret of who any Marshall quarterback is looking for when inside the redzone. Marshall's offense is built around feeding the ball to the tight end and Yurachek has made it easy to keep this strategy on track. The first time I saw Yurachek play, it was like watching a young Gator Hoskins. After working as in a 1-2 punch system behind Frohnapfel in 2014, Yurachek stepped into the spotlight last year and didn't disappoint. He runs and catches like a wide receiver, but can block with the best. His nine scores led the team last year and 2016 could be his best season yet. Yurachek's size creates a matchup nightmare, just like Hoskins and Frohnapfel. When he attaches to the line then works into the flat or over the middle, linebackers are often forced to pick him up, allowing his speed to provide an edge. When split out, his size overpowers smaller corners and safeties, and one missed tackle leads to a big gain. His work ethic is second to none, as he is the typical pack your lunch pail type of guy that Doc Holliday injects into his program every season. Don't be shocked to see Hoskins-like numbers by the junior this season, as double-digit scores is not out of the question.
Emanuel Byrd, SR: 6-3, 229: 19-214, TD: Although his numbers are not that of Yurachek's, Byrd brought another element to the table from the tight end's room, his blocking ability, but now its time for him to add some offensive firepower to his contribution. The Georgia Military College transfer spent much of his first season with the Herd working as the back up to Yurachek, but displayed his potential at Charlotte after shedding a tackle and rumbling for a season-long 41-yard gain on the play before being forced out of bounds. When Marshall uses the two TE set, Byrd can provide that second check down option, and has shown glimmers of what he can do once finding the open field.
Kaleb Harris, RS-SO: 6-3, 223: No receiving stats in 2015: Although Harris has no offensive numbers from last season, his work ethic and ability provided him action in 12 of the Herd's 13 contests, mostly on special teams. However, that says a lot about how Holliday feels about the second year player. Holliday preaches about the importance of special team's play and Harris has been able to provide a reliable piece to that puzzle. Now the question becomes can he break through on the offensive side in 2016?
A player to remember this fall is Pro Wells. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound recruit out of Kenneth City, Fla. brings another tall and able body to the Herd's tight end core. His first item on the agenda will certainly be adding weight, but the two-sport athlete already possess the skill of catching the ball after leading all tight ends in the Florida in receiving yards in only his first season of football.
Up next in this series will be the Marshal secondary as it took a significant hit due to graduation. We will preview whom returns and what issues Chuck Heater must address prior to the 2016 kickoff.