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AMES — Ask Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell what he's looking for from the tight end position from a skill standpoint. His answer leaves no doubt about what he wants those players to be able to do.
'I like Gronk (Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots),' Campbell said. 'That's my guy. If you've got Gronk, let me know. Tough to find.'
No, Campbell isn't trying to compare anybody on the Cyclones roster to the Super Bowl-winning tight end, but he does want to see his players exhibit some of those same basic qualities. In the offense Campbell is installing at Iowa State, he wants his tight ends to be run blockers, pass catchers on the line and be able to flex out wide in the pass game.
The Iowa State tight ends have to metaphorically walk before they can run, though. Senior Justin Chandler is the only tight end who caught a pass in 2015 while sophomore Scotty Schaffner, junior college transfer Clifford Fernandez and Cole Anderson will all be in the fold as well this season.
'I think we've got a long way to go in that group and we'll continue to coach them and they're getting better, which is what I like to see,' said tight ends coach Alex Golesh. 'Just continuing to coach the little things: effort, finish, first step, second step, hand placement and all those little things that you expect. It's just so brand new to these guys and it's like starting at square one.'
Chandler — 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds — caught two passes for 49 yards last season and had a career-long 30-yard grab against Kansas. With week three of spring practices underway in Ames, Chandler said he's already noticed more emphasis from last season to this spring on moving the tight ends along the line of scrimmage and getting them more involved in the passing attack.
'The biggest thing is tempo and just splitting out wide and sometimes going in the backfield and coming on the line,' Chandler said. 'That's a big thing.'
Iowa State won't substitute tight ends as much in a given series this season, so Golesh said the importance of every player to be able to block and catch is heightened. Fernandez could be the answer in that department.
Fernandez was a quarterback in high school and played on the edge as a receiver at Southwest Mississippi Community College before moving to tight end last season and had 20 catches for 188 yards. He also played basketball as a freshman there, which is an added piece of versatility that caught Campbell's eye.
'A lot of our guys have kind of lined up at wide receiver and kind of have grown in rather than guys that were offensive lineman and have grown out,' Campbell said. 'Again, it's who are your players and what do you have? In the perfect world I think it's that skill set of the power forward type guy that can do it.'
Because Fernandez was a high-school quarterback and was split out much of the time as a pass-catcher in junior college, Golesh said the learning curve is different for him. Fernandez doesn't bring the experience as a true tight end from junior college to this season's roster, but it also means he doesn't have any bad habits within the position that the coaches must break.
'You have to live through the growing pains and for me, continue to pray for patience and understand that it will happen some time,' Golesh said. 'As long as they have the want-to, that's the best part of our job is teaching them exactly what you want.'
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