Tight ends 'critical' to Iowa's success out of spring

Hawkeyes ran multiple tight end sets a lot during spring game; Toren Young stood out; no more major injuries after Snyder, Ferguson

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IOWA CITY — As much as any aspect of the Iowa offense — both historically and recently — the tight end has played a key role in the Hawkeyes’ success.

Given what the offense has shown this spring under new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, it appears that philosophy has only intensified — both from the apparently budding talent at the position and the necessity of the position with a thin wide receiver corps.

Coach Kirk Ferentz got catches from five different tight ends in the Hawkeyes’ spring game on Friday night, and ran several two- and three-tight-end sets.

“I feel like the coaches know what they’re doing, and as much as they use (us), I feel like that’s the best thing for our team,” sophomore Noah Fant said. “Coach (LeVar) Woods gives us the feedback in meetings and stuff and our job is to take it in and work on as much as we can. The most we hear is fundamentals of run blocking. That’s a lot of what spring ball is about.”

Fant is the primary receiving tight end, but professed his love for run blocking after the game through a wide grin. Being a run blocker is enough of the job as a Hawkeye that, “you’ve got to love run blocking to play tight end, especially here,” Fant said.

Fant was joined by Shaun Beyer, T.J. Hoceknson, Jon Wisnieski and Drew Cook as tight ends to catch a pass in Friday’s spring game.

The variety of multiple-tight end sets is something that likely will be continue to be an Iowa staple, and Fant said there’s no preferred position within those sets for any of the tight ends right now.

“For those two- and three-tight-end sets, our job is to know all positions,” Fant said. “They’re all interchangeable. Wherever we get in at as tight ends on the field, that’s a great thing in and of itself. We all know each position. We’re all interchangeable, so that’s a good thing.”

Kirk Ferentz pointed out that in Fant’s first real reps in live action as a Hawkeye, “every snap he takes is really still a learning experience.”

As Kirk Ferentz pointed out after Friday’s game, the offense is far from ready. Fant and that group making strides — and quickly — will go a long way toward Iowa making the necessary overall improvements on offense.

“I can really foresee that position being a team or a position on our team that’s going to be critical to our success,” Kirk Ferentz said. “There’s nothing magical about any of that stuff. They’ve got just to keep pushing and the next phase will be strength and conditioning again.”

YOUNG FINISHES SPRING STRONG

With starting running back Akrum Wadley kept at bay this spring, Iowa coaches got a good look at the group of guys fighting to get the bulk of the carries vacated by LeShun Daniels.

In the practice at West Des Moines Valley, Toks Akirnibade and Toren Young especially showed they were up to the task as the “clear” pair fighting for the role opposite Wadley. It was Young who stood out Friday night, though.

The redshirt freshman had a 14-yard touchdown run and broke several tackles en route to the most successful individual night offensively for the Hawkeyes.

 

“I liked the energy he ran with and the toughness he ran with, and he’s pretty much been doing that all spring,” Ferentz said of Young. “We don’t do a lot of live work, but when we do, he’s looked pretty well, pretty good out there. Quite frankly with him, that’s probably his best.”

Young, Akinribade and Marcel Joly had the carries for the Hawkeyes in the spring game, and Wadley – forced into only fielding non-returnable punts early in the game – said he’s enjoyed watching the group work.

There are reminders of Daniels and himself in those younger guys, Wadley said, and he added their improvement has done more than just the typical lip service of pushing him to work harder.

“It’s going to be a good rotation,” Wadley said. “They’re capable of doing anything I’m capable of doing. You saw a lot of bursts from Toren today; you saw some ability from Toks and saw some from Marcel – that’s another guy you can’t sleep on.

“Those guys are hungry. They get busy.”

COOK MAKES TIGHT END DEBUT

Drew Cook has never had to block before. He’s also never really had to tackle – save for maybe once or twice on a rare interception while playing quarterback at Iowa City Regina.

The second-generation Hawkeye made his debut with the aforementioned tight end group Friday night and caught one pass. Running routes and catching passes is the fun part, but it’s the blocking that will take the most time to get used to, Cook said. His father, Marv, was an All-American at tight end for Iowa in 1988 and played seven years in the NFL, so Cook has a solid source of knowledge even beyond his coaches at Iowa.

 

Jokes aside, the sophomore was eager to make the change if it means helping the team and seeing the field.

“Just getting stronger is the main thing; it’ll help me in every aspect,” Cook said. “I love running routes, but as a tight end you’ve got to do both (catch and block), and I’ve never blocked before in my life.

“(My dad) is going to help me out. … Whenever I ask him (about his blocking) he just tells me he did his job, so I guess that’s all that matters.”

SMITH’S IOWA FUTURE UP TO HIM

Ferentz announced at the West Des Moines practice that Iowa wide receiver Jerminic Smith had been removed from team activities due to an academic issue.

On Friday night, he was asked Smith’s progress, and while the head coach offered few details about what Smith had to do to get back on the team, Ferentz was clear about whose court the ball was in.

“(There’s) nothing new there, and we’ll just let his actions speak,” Ferentz said. “So we’ll evaluate it when the semester is over and see how things go.”

INJURY UPDATE

Aside from the blow of losing safety Brandon Snyder and offensive lineman Dalton Ferguson to ACL tears this spring, the Hawkeyes got into summer in decent shape health-wise, Ferentz said Friday night.

They were without starters Matt VandeBerg, Nathan Bazata and Matt Nelson for most or all of spring practice, but Ferentz reiterated that spring is expected to be the extent of it for those three, as well as anyone else dealing with a nagging injury at the moment. That includes starting running back Akrum Wadley, who said Friday night he had a procedure done to correct swelling around his meniscus, and was held out of the spring game for precautionary reasons.

“We should be in good shape hopefully by June when we get the summer program started June 6,” Ferentz said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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