Move to tight end has paid dividends for McLean
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With his name regularly included on the dean’s list since his arrival in Storrs, there’s never been a question about Aaron McLean’s intelligence.
Displaying his IQ, however, isn’t limited to the classroom. Not long after meeting with new UConn offensive coordinator John Dunn, McLean saw that many of the patterns he ran on previous UConn teams would now be done by the tight ends so McLean did what any bright, ambitious soul would do, he asked to move to tight end.
Heading into Saturday’s game at Memphis, UConn was on pace to have more receptions out of the running back and tight end positions than during any other time while playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level so McLean’s timing appears to be impeccable.
McLean came into the Memphis game second on the team with 199 receiving yards and tied for first with 14 receptions despite being held without a catch in a recent game at Syracuse.
With freshman running back Zavier Scott, McLean and fellow tight end Tyler Davis combining for
43 receptions, the Huskies completed more passes to backs and tight ends than to wide receivers in the first five games of the season. It just so happens that Saturday’s game was a matchup of the two American Athletic Conference teams who have thrown the ball to tight ends and running backs more than any other team heading into this week’s action.
“I have definitely gotten more comfortable with it,” McLean said. “I am getting used to being in motion and picking up blocks that way so I think I have gotten better at it throughout the season.
“We (McLean and fellow former receiver Tyler Davis) have definitely grown into the position,” McLean said. “He has been playing it a little bit longer than me so as far as footwork, he is a little bit better than me but I am trying to learn from him, watch him every day so I can be more of a technician.”
McLean also went back and watched film of Alec Bloom and Tommy Myers, UConn’s top two tight ends in the previous four seasons.
“When we looked at film from last year, their techniques and their footwork was good so that is the main thing I have tried to work on,” McLean said. “Once I get that, I think I could be really good.”
McLean earned a reputation as UConn’s best blocking receiver in his first three seasons but he knew there is a big difference in being able to throw an occasional block as a wide receiver and blocking consistently as a tight end.
“I definitely have to get a lot stronger, I knew that because I am in the trenches now,” McLean said. “Looking at the offense, I feel like I have to be more effective here. I wasn’t really nervous about moving there but the summer was going to be big for me to get stronger and I think I did get a lot stronger.”
How well has McLean adapted to the tight end position? Well, in last week’s loss to Cincinnati he led UConn by being targeted 14 times, more than twice as many as any other player. He was targeted 19 times in the first two conference games of the season.
“That comes with working and the chemistry, that is what we did all summer, we worked out a lot, threw it to each other a lot,” UConn quarterback David Pindell said. “He is a big guy, tall, athletic and he has good hands.”
McLean has also taken on a leadership role. Not the most talkative of the UConn seniors, McLean was the one who sat in front of the media after last week’s 49-7 loss to Cincinnati and said, “everybody has to do more, we have to watch more film, practice harder and everybody just has to do more and once we start doing that, it will start going in the right direction. If we don’t do more, we are going to get the same results.”
A few days later McLean was given a chance to reflect on his growing role as a team leader and occasional spokesman.
“A lot of it has come from gaining confidence in myself, getting out there and playing and realizing I could do it,” McLean said. “Once I got out there, freshman and sophomore year I didn’t play much but last year I started playing more and the confidence comes from that so I am kind of building on that throughout the year.
“Throughout my career I have never been a rah rah guy but I have always tried to lead by example, do my job and get everybody else to do their job. I don’t think I will ever be that rah rah guy but I try to get the younger guys to see how it is supposed to be done.”
UConn tight end Aaron McLean (8) pulls in the ball for a touchdown against Boise State on Sept. 8.
UCF’s Jermaine McMillian tackles UConn tight end Aaron McLean in the season opener on Aug. 30.