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Oklahoma Sooners Football: A Bigger, Badder Mark Andrews

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The junior tight end looks poised for a breakout season, one that could be the best at his position in OU history.

UTEP v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Mark Andrews had himself a day. Calling it a game at halftime, the Arizona native showcased his finest, most promising performance to date. Andrews found the end zone a combined 14 times in his first two seasons at Oklahoma. Now in an expanded role following the departure of last season’s top playmakers Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to the NFL, there’s a solid chance he eclipses that mark this season as Baker the Touchdown Maker’s No. 1 target.

Exploding for seven immaculate receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown in today’s opener, Andrews has always been the prime candidate coming into 2017 expected to make up for most of the receiving production that was lost from last season. His featured role this fall was a reasonable expectation to have since he and his quarterback are the only returning starters at the skill spots for the Sooners. While the Oklahoma Sooners will feature a lot of unproven talent — outside of Kentucky grad transfer Jeff Badet — at wide receiver and running back, Andrews is in a great spot to steal headlines across the country catching an array of passes from the nation’s best quarterback.

Totaling 50 receptions, 807 yards along with the aforementioned 14 touchdowns in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined, the 6-5, 250-pound junior is a safe bet to reach, if not best, those previous numbers in just this season alone as Mayfield’s go-to target. And if he’s not the one catching the pass, he’ll be drawing the attention of multiple defenders to free up the guy who is. The newcomers to the offense this season will truly benefit from this.

Just ask CeeDee Lamb. The freshman’s touchdown stood out in particular this afternoon as Andrews took three defenders out of the play with just one hint indicating a slant into the end zone. The result was a wide open touchdown grab by CeeDee the starting rookie on a deep drag route in the back of the end zone.

Andrews will definitely garner much attention from the Ohio State defense next week, and it’s could to create a big advantage for the stockpile of explosive weapons at Baker Mayfield’s disposal. The youngbloods may need every advantage they can get in that hostile road environment against one of the nation’s best. But make no mistake, Andrews leads the way for this pass offense in a bigger, stronger, faster frame than ever before.

His smooth, gliding scampers downfield — replete with jukes, side steps and stiff arms — after the catch were quite impressive, and though things will tighten up with better competition, he certainly already looks like a stronger, much improved player this season. And he seems to have entered 2017 with a real edge to prove he’s not only the best pass catcher on the team, but arguably the best tight end in the land. Toby Rowland on The Franchise post-game show called it “pit bullishness”, an apt description of the chip seemingly nestled on Mark Andrews’ shoulder.

The Sooners committee of playmakers in the passing game goes deep, evident by the ease of transition to the college game shown by many newcomers making their first appearance at this level this afternoon. Andrews is the biggest standout of this ultra-talented group, with his size, athleticism and unique skill set that allows him to be considered by some as more of a hybrid wide receiver than an out-and-out tight end.

Just look at these moves!

Whichever position you consider him to be, one thing is certain: Mark Andrews is one of the most lethal weapons in the country.

The 2008 season saw a similar breakout from a tight end in Ardmore’s Jermaine Gresham, who totaled 45 receptions for combined for 679 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons before exploding for 66 catches, 950 yards and 14 touchdowns — the current OU record for a tight end — as a junior. Gresh was able to do this despite being surrounded by experienced, high-volume wide receivers such as Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and a freshman Ryan Broyles.

As a leaner, faster, more athletic version of Gresham, it’s not a stretch to expect similar if not better numbers from Mark Andrews this season. Gone are Dede Westbrook and his 80 catches from a season ago. Hoping to step up to make up that production is a collection of new wideouts, none whom currently carry the clout on-field as the experienced group of wide receivers Sam Bradford threw to in his Heisman-winning season of 2008.

With the special connection Mark Andrews seems to have with his quarterback, he could become the nation’s premier tight end this season and the recipient of the John Mackey Award.

It’d be hard to pass up the NFL if he does enjoy a 60-catch, 900-yard, 15-touchdown season — especially with this being Mayfield’s last season in Norman. So the only thing to do is just sit back, Sooner fans, and enjoy watching what could be the single greatest season by a tight end in Oklahoma football history. For it could be the last in the Crimson & Cream for the bigger, badder junior star from Arizona.