IOWA CITY — So Iowa is going to have tight ends this year.
Yeah, yeah, the Hawkeyes had some last season. Like really, really had some. You know that T.J. Hockenson was drafted No. 8 by the Detroit Lions and Noah Fant went a little later at No. 20 to the Denver Broncos.
You know that. And, no, the Iowa professional tight end factory isn’t shutting down.
It might go at a different speed. It might not attract an army of NFL scouts. If it does, then Iowa is probably in Indianapolis.
And, you know, it might not look all that different from past tight end duos that worked out pretty well.
This spring, head coach Kirk Ferentz sort of laid those tracks.
Ferentz acknowledged that, of course, Iowa can’t bank on having two first-round draft picks at tight end.
“The chances are, we’re not going to be in that situation,” he said. Well, the first time a school had two tight ends go in the first round was last year with Hockenson and Fant, so, yeah, absolutely on this.
One of the things the Iowa program does is compare current Hawkeyes to past Hawkeyes. There’s a model or a profile left by a previous player and the Iowa staff sometimes sees similarities.
Ferentz had a quick example for 2019 tight end. He kind of sees 2015.
That was the season cousins Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle combined for 55 catches, 695 yards and seven TDs. Beyond the raw numbers, Kittle stretched the field and challenged defenses on the seam. Krieger-Coble had a talent for making finding space between the hashes and moving the chains.
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Iowa did a lot of things right while going 12-0 in 2015. One quiet number that got a little louder as the season progressed was third-down conversions. Krieger-Coble was really good at that, at one point stringing together 14 consecutive first-down receptions.
“Henry’s one of the better tight ends we’ve had in my opinion, and it just he wasn’t the fastest but I think was a really good football player, good college football player and you know, helped us win a lot of games,” Ferentz said. “Guys don’t have to be first-rounders and just be really good college players. That’s kind of the goal.”
If the 2015 thing works out, senior Nate Wieting is probably Krieger-Coble and junior Shaun Beyer is Kittle.
“Maybe,” Wieting said Tuesday. Yeah, the Hawkeyes can’t work out with footballs while coaches are around yet. The season hasn’t been born yet, so players might be a little hesitant to compare themselves with Hawkeyes who’ve had NFL careers.
Here’s the cool part and maybe this can help the Hawkeyes: Wieting was a freshman when Krieger-Coble was a senior. Wieting, a 6-4, 250-pounder from Rockford, Ill., was most definitely taking notes.
“I just remember him doing everything really, really well,” Wieting said Tuesday. “He had really good footwork, ran outstanding routes. He was solid in the run game and just a really good overall football player. I really like the comparison. It’s an honor.”
For Beyer, the Kittle comparison mostly goes off his body type. Kittle left Iowa at 6-4, 250. Beyer will begin his junior season at 6-5, 244.
Beyer has seen time on special teams, so that’s mostly what the world knows about his speed at this point.
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“I’ve got a big advantage with my speed,” Beyer said this spring. “A lot of people have been comparing me to Noah. I don’t know if I’m that fast.”
Yes, Wieting and Beyer do have short resumes. Wieting has three career receptions. Beyer still is waiting for his first. That’s OK. Krieger-Coble had three catches in 2014 and Kittle had one.
Everyone has to start somewhere.
“There is a standard and that’s a good thing to have,” Wieting said. “I think we have a lot of talent in the room. We have veteran players. Hopefully as a group, we can put together a nice season.”
OK, that probably comes off as a campaign promise. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz reminds his tight ends to stay within themselves.
“Coach Brian says you don’t need to be extremely fast, you just have to appear like you’re running fast,” Wieting said with a laugh. “That’s kind of funny, but it’s all about footwork at the top of the route, it’s about working the defender. It’s the little nuances you pick up over the years that help improve your route running.”
Mentoring is a difficult notion in football. Hockenson and Fant will be in the NFL trying to prove themselves as rookies. Kittle will try to top his 2018 when he set an NFL record for season receiving yards by a tight end.
As a fifth-year senior, Wieting has played the current crop of Iowa NFL tight ends.
Wieting has texting privileges with these guys and he’s not afraid to use it if he gets stuck.
“I’m sure going to reach out if those experiences do come my way,” Wieting said. “T.J. and I still talk a little bit about certain route concepts we run, what defenders do and certain habits guys have. I just really try to pick guys’ brains and try to improve.”
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