Welcome To The Era Of The H-Back, Bearcats Fans

Since the advent of spread offenses, or at least the almost universal obsession with this system, offensive coordinators have been looking for new ways to incorporate the tight end into the offense.

Unfortunately tight ends have been going the way of the Dodo bird and fullbacks in college football. That same trend’s occurred at Cincinnati. In 2005, the Bearcats featured seven tight ends and fullbacks (4 and 3). This season they feature five tight ends and not a single fullback to speak of.

And by “feature”, I mean Eddie Gran is trying to find someway to make them meaningful contributors in the offense somehow.

In 2014 the tight ends were squeezed out by an utterly talented wide receiver corps that caught 90% of passes thrown that season. With the likes of Mekale McKay, Chris Moore, Shaq Washington, Max Morrison, and Johnny Holton dotting the exterior, there was simply no room for other pass catchers in the offense. The same has occurred this season with all of them back with a year more experience in Gran’s system under their belts.

So the offensive coordinator’s gotten creative with his use of tight ends this year. Gran has been lining DJ Dowdy and Tyler Cogswell, #1 and #2 on the depth chart, along the line of scrimmage as interior blockers. Sure, that’s the most traditional usage of tight ends dating back to the beginning of organized football. But he’s also be placing them in the backfield as H-backs, a term not commonly allotted to these players who are typically used as extra offensive linemen or receivers.

Take a look at the H-back in Cincinnati’s pistol formation.

H-back in Pistol Formation, Cincinnati Bearcats offense.

As an H-back, it’s like having a running back and it’s not. It’s like having an offensive lineman and it’s not. It’s like having a wide receiver and it’s not. That unpredictability is felt on the other side of the ball, as defenses are left guessing about whether or not he’ll take the ball out of the backfield, stay in pass or run protection, or split outside for a pass.

That’s what caught the Miami Hurricanes so off guard two Thursdays ago and led to the game sealing touchdown for the Bearcats.

Tyler Cogswell is acting as the H-back in this scenario with fellow tight end DJ Dowdy an extra blocker up front. These two will frequently tag team the role throughout games. Upon the snap, Johnny Holton comes in motion and Hayden Moore fakes a hand off to running back Hosey Williams. It forces Miami’s linebackers to hesitate about whether to strafe to their right to cover Holton, crash the middle to stuff Williams, or get into coverage on their left. Their indecisiveness gives Cogswell plenty of time to find space in the flat, catch the ball unimpeded, and sprint to the endzone.

That’s the power of the H-back in a nutshell.

Gran could have called any number of plays to confound or slow down the defense and give his offense a strong chance to score a touchdown. He could have plugged in Tion Green and called for Cogswell and Dowdy to push the pile and lead him into the endzone. He could have ran a power run with Cogswell runninga cross Moore’s face. But he stuck with a play action pass that actually caused both of his tight ends to be open at the same time.

So in an era with increasingly diminished usage of the traditional tight end, it’s encouraging that Eddie Gran is working them into the offense in unique ways. Dowdy and Cogswell might not ever catch as many passes this season as, say, Shaq Washington catches in a game. But just the fact that they are playing the H-back role to give Cincinnati more options in the running and passing game makes the offense as a whole all the more dangerous.