BOCA RATON – While announcing Harrison Bryant as a spring offensive MVP during the Owls’ post-spring steak-and-hot dogs banquet, running backs coach Kevin Smith revealed a new nickname for the big tight end: “The Franchise.”
It’s an appropriate moniker considering Bryant’s play this spring. Simply put, the Owls’ offense worked best when it flowed through Bryant and fellow tight end John Raine.
“Those guys have been great,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “They’ve been stars in camp.”
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Bryant presents a physical mismatch for defenses. He’s too big for corners to cover and too fast for linebackers. Throw the ball where he can get his hands on it and Bryant is almost assured of catching it.
But Bryant doesn’t need the ball in his hands to affect plays. The Owls often split him wide this spring, creating a blocking mismatch on the edge that opened holes in the running game.
“Harrison’s really made significant plays every practice,” Kiffin said. “He’s an NFL guy, and probably a high NFL guy.”
If Bryant was the Owls’ top offensive player throughout spring, backup John Raine wasn’t far behind. Though smaller than Bryant, Raine is no less tenacious a blocker. He’s also demonstrated strong playmaking ability with the ball in his hands.
In years past Raine’s impressed in practices and scrimmages but didn’t see many opportunities on game days. That should change this fall.
Spring Grade: A. No unit, one either side of the football, performed better than the tight ends this spring. Bryant will be a preseason All-Conference USA selection as he enters his senior year and could become a candidate for C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Raine can line up anywhere – tight, wide or in the backfield – and could surprise opposing defenses with his production, especially early in the season.
Spring Standout: Bryant. No need to get cute here. The Franchise is a weapon in the red zone. He can stretch the field. He can open holes. Lacking playmakers at receiver for much of the spring, Bryant took full advantage of his chance to shine.
Spring Disappointment: Logan Peterson made some plays early in camp and appeared ready to make the leap to a viable offensive alternative should Raine or Bryant miss any time, but a staph infection landed him in the hospital midway through camp. He returned to practices a couple days later but never returned to the field. Peterson is expected to be ready for the start of fall camp.
Spring Surprise: That FAU might employ two-tight end sets more frequently this spring didn’t exactly surprise us – it was one of our pre-spring predictions after all – but the Owls relied on that personnel group even more than expected. That should become a positive for the Owls entering the fall. Having Bryant and Raine on the field simultaneously creates mismatches in both the passing and running games that will frustrate C-USA defenses.