A key component of the Oregon State offense has been missing for the past month.
Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith, the Beavers’ top two tight ends, have not been on the field together since the 52-24 win over Washington State on Oct. 12.
Hamlett has been hobbled by knee trouble while back spasms sidelined Smith. They’re both back at practice and should be ready to go Saturday at Arizona State.
Kellen Clute and Tyler Perry have filled in admirably and Clute came up with eight catches for 37 yards against Stanford.
Even so, the absence of the 6-foot-7, 263-pound Hamlett and the 6-6, 260-pound Smith has been noticeable. Hamlett did play sparingly against USC and finished with two receptions for 12 yards.
“It’s really big for us to have them both healthy because of being a threat of being a downfield weapon,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said.
“We ran into it a little bit against SC. When they’re doubling Brandin (Cooks), we’ve got to be able to get the ball to the tight end more because he’s going to be one-on-one and that’s where having those guys that are great threats downfield are very valuable to us. So having them back will be great.”
The Beavers happened to face two of the strongest defenses in the Pac-12 Conference in Stanford and USC without both players on the field.
The extra dimension they provide enables the Beavers to click on offense.
When healthy, they make an intimidating tandem for opposing defenses. They are a matchup nightmare for corners, safeties and linebackers.
“Caleb makes me a better player, I make Caleb a better player,” Hamlett said. “It’s hard when there’s two of us running vertical down the seam and corners and safeties have to make choices. It’s definitely good to have us both in there.”
Their physical presence makes life easier for quarterback Sean Mannion.
They are big targets in the red zone — an area that OSU has struggled in since they’ve been out — and Mannion can find them quickly if his primary receiver is covered.
“They definitely bring a different dimension,” tight ends coach Kyle DeVan said. “I think having Connor, a 6-foot-7 guy, out there running the routes gives Sean an extra place to throw the ball because he knows he can throw it high and Connor can reach over guys or jump over guys and wherever the ball’s thrown, he can go get it. Caleb’s definitely the physical, kind of run through people, which is what we want.”
With everyone healthy and Clute and Perry in the mix, the Beavers have exceptional depth at the position.
DeVan, who was an offensive lineman for the Beavers from 2004-07, said those teams never had four tight ends that were ready to go.
When Joe Newton was injured as a junior, the offensive approach had to be altered.
“I think that’s one thing that this team is very fortunate about is the depth,” DeVan said. “I don’t even know if we had five guys (total) at tight end. I don’t think that really happened back then.
“Bringing the four of them back with Caleb and Connor, I think it really gives this team depth at that position and it really allows coach Riley to be the creative guy that he is. Him and Langsdorf, they love having the tight ends in the passing game and when you can do it with three or four tight ends, it makes things easy.”