'Underappreciated' Hamilton headlines Iowa TE group

Hawkeyes return 12 starts, 32 catches from deep position

Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George (right) tries to drag down Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Ray Hamilton during the first half of their NCAA game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in Ames, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG) ¬
Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George (right) tries to drag down Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Ray Hamilton during the first half of their NCAA game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in Ames, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG) ¬

IOWA CITY — Former Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was a first-team all-Big Ten selection a year ago and much like his predecessors, he’ll be catching passes and blocking defensive ends on Sundays for paychecks.

Fiedorowicz finished last season with 30 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns. He’ll be missed, but Iowa’s current group combined for 32 catches for 473 yards, 12 starts and a pair of scores last year. Starting with Iowa senior Ray Hamilton, they are committed to maintain excellence under Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz.

“I don’t think anything changes,” Hamilton said of losing Fiedorowicz. “We’ve always had the same mentality of ‘we want to be the go-to guy,’ and that goes for everybody in our room, whether it’s me, whether it’s Duz (Jake Duzey), whether it’s Henry (Krieger-Coble), George (Kittle), you name it; you want to be the go-to guy. I don’t think much changes.

Duzey TD vs. Ohio State

“C.J. was a great player, and we’re going to miss having him around. A great guy for the locker room. But going forward, we’re not worried that C.J.’s gone. We’re worried about getting better individually right now and, more importantly, getting better as a team.”

Ferentz had enough faith in the current group to open with three-tight end sets three different times last year. All three were against Big Ten heavyweights — Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska. At Ohio State, Iowa used three tight ends 11 times in its first 22 plays. Iowa’s first touchdown was a pass to Fiedorowicz. The team’s third touchdown was an 85-yard catch-and-run by Duzey.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-5, 252-pounder, started four times last year and caught eight passes for 95 yards. He’s the only senior and the de facto leader. Not only is that his own expectation; it’s what Ferentz wants from him as well.

“I think Ray’s always been one of those underappreciated guys in some ways at times, even by us, I think,” Ferentz said. “He made a lot of clutch plays during the season. He makes them during practice. He’s pretty good all-around tight end, in our opinion. We’re losing a pro guy, when you lose a pro guy, it’s not fair to measure it ... to a guy who hasn’t played. He’s going to play a long time.

“The good news is, I think, Ray has improved his game, and I thought he was pretty good last year.”

Duzey (6-4, 245), a junior, displayed impressive speed in his touchdown sprint against Ohio State where he outran defensive backs. He started seven games and caught 19 balls for 270 yards.

Kittle (6-4, 230), a sophomore, also notched a start and hauled in five passes for 108 yards. Krieger-Coble (6-4, 250), a junior, did not have a catch but is a powerful blocker.

“I think Jake Duzey has certainly is more confident now and we’re bringing the other group along, the other guys that are behind him,” Ferentz said. “I think we have the potential to have a good group, but we have room for improvement. They’re moving in the right direction.”

With Iowa’s depth and experience, the position could rank among the nation’s best. But the only way to prove that is on the field this fall. It’s only April, which means the group collectively has to work to reach that lofty potential.

“We expect to be (one of the best units),” Hamilton said. “We’ve got to put in the work right now. We know we have the talent top-to-bottom there, but that doesn’t really mean too much unless you go out and produce. So right now we need to do a great job as a group. I need to do a great job as a leader brining guys along. Everybody needs to take responsibility and continue to get better every day.”

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