While Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield typed three sentences into his Twitter feed this week that would serve as his shot across the bow to anyone doubting the Sooners’ receivers, Mark Andrews rested.
Andrews is proven and healthy. No need for him to beat his chest in an attention-grabbing matter. September will be here soon enough.
“I know I’m bigger and stronger than I was,” Andrews said. “I’m excited to go out there and see what that does for me.”
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) August 10, 2017
Amid all the talk about Oklahoma’s receivers, Andrews almost gets lost in the shuffle. Replacing Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook will be difficult. Running back Joe Mixon played a significant role in the Sooners’ passing attack last season. Both are in NFL training camps.
But Andrews has caught 7 touchdown passes in each of the last two seasons. For his career, he’s averaged 16.1 yards a catch. It would likely be more, but the yardage totals end once you’re in the end zone.
What does Mark Andrews play?
In a league known for instigating defensive nightmares, Andrews provokes many.
One dilemma he presents for defensive coordinators is just what position is he playing?
Oklahoma labels him a tight end. The previous two seasons he’s been the Associated Press All-Big 12 first-team pick at the position. The Big 12’s coaches gave him that accolade in 2016. But Andrews’ hand rarely touches the ground. He usually lines up at slot receiver and occasionally out wide.
Andrews’ position coach, inside receivers coach Cale Gundy, almost considers it an insult to call him at tight end. Why waste a potential chance to score, which Andrews does frequently, having him block defensive ends?
“Are you looking for a guy that can put his hand on the ground and be an in-line tight end or are you looking for that guy that can run a 4.5 or a 4.6 or maybe low 4.7 and still be a wide receiver?” Gundy asked.
That’s the problem for defenses. Andrews gives every appearance that he can battle with defensive linemen in the trenches and win.
There are a lot of good receivers in the Big 12. Andrews is the only one that is 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds. He can run circles around linebackers. Try to cover him with a defensive back and it starts to look like a shoving match with an inevitable conclusion.
“Mark, to be able to run and do some of the things that he can do as a tight end is rare. He has rare ability,” OU coach Lincoln Riley.
Andrews’ potential was on display the first half of the 2016 season. In terms of touchdowns, he was the Sooners’ leading receiver until a shoulder injury he suffered in the seventh game became a considerable burden.
Andrews played with the injury. Practices were limited. His status in the game plan dipped, too. Oklahoma’s coaching staff knew he was one shoulder tweak from a game-ending injury.
The offseason allowed Andrews to heal, and he’s put on weight. Wide receivers do not look like Andrews. If he’s not a tight end, he does a great impression. When asked if Andrews needs to get the ball more, Mayfield pointed out Andrews’ reception-to-touchdown ratio.
“He’s a guy you have to pay attention to because he can run like a receiver and he’s big enough to play with the big boys,” Mayfield said. “He needs to be on the field at all times. We need to utilize him. He’s gonna be a huge part of the offense and have a great year.”
So what position does he play? The Sooners call him a tight end, but they can use him many ways. This much is clear: He’s a weapon who is hard to defend.