SPORTS

No. 19 - TE George Kittle

With Duzey out, this is the junior's best opportunity as a Hawkeye

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No. 19 . . . Going into spring, junior tight end George Kittle (6-4, 235) was the other other tight end. Kittle fits into the “move” tight end category (meaning pass catcher with speed) along with senior Jake Duzey. Going into spring, Kittle was the guy with six career receptions (including one in an injury-shortened 2014) and Duzey was the guy with 58 career receptions.

Coming out of spring, Duzey is the guy with a knee injury (possibly a pattelar tendon) and Kittle is the guy with sudden expectations.

The last time head coach Kirk Ferentz addressed Duzey’s injury, he said he was hopeful for a late September return. In his first outing as the “move” guy TE, Kittle caught three passes for 48 yards in Iowa’s spring game at Kinnick Stadium.

Ferentz acknowledged Kittle’s blooming importance. He said he wants Kittle to feel the heat of expectations.

“The thing I am happiest about with George is he has blocked better this spring than he ever has and a lot of that is concentration and that’s the other thing I am happy about with him,” Ferentz said. “I think he is concentrating at a level that is much higher than he ever has for a period of 15 practices. It is kind of like today (spring game), it was a bit of an abbreviated appearance and the games are going to be a lot longer than what we did today. The intensity and concentration that a player has to bring to the field is a learn thing a lot of times and I think we are seeing that with George.

“He’s starting to show that he’s getting that idea because when he does concentrate, he’s a pretty good football player. When he doesn’t, he’s just another guy. Another guy that can run well and catch balls. He has made a lot of strides in his game.”

TE deployment . . . Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said tight ends could be used in a different way this season.

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“We’re doing a few things formationally,” Davis said. “We have tight ends that we feel like can be tough in mismatches, so we’re doing things with tight ends and detached formations a little bit more than we have in the past.”

This spring, you saw Kittle split out in a few formations.

“We will do more of that with all of our tight ends, I think, moving forward,” Ferentz said.

Yes, a lot of things that are hinted at or talked about during the spring never see the light of day in fall. I think this is probably one of those, but you never know.

Which tight ends outside of Kittle and Duzey could do this and find a mismatch? Senior Henry Krieger Coble is more like an “inline” TE (meaning blocker), but he is an underrated athlete. Jon Wisnieski? He’s a big dude at 6-5, 247. Does he have the wheels to create mismatches? Maybe. Kittle does for certain.

Interesting. We’ll see if it manifests itself.

Ankle injury . . . Kittle had offseason ankle surgery. He missed Iowa’s final six games after suffering a knee injury against Maryland.

Now, Krieger Coble is biased. He is, after all, Kittle’s cousin, but he believes Kittle could have a big season.

“He’s great in routes, he’s improved a lot blocking,” Krieger Coble said. “I think he’s a great weapon for us. He’s an awesome weapon and an awesome guy to have for us.”

Outlook . . . We talk a lot about full-service TEs. It’s the Iowa way. You have to be able to block to see the field and see targets in games. Dallas Clark had to do it. Scott Chandler had to do it. Tony Moeaki, Brandon Myers and so on and so on.

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Ferentz doesn’t do this often and maybe I’m being liberal with my interpretation (probably that), but in the quote above, it sounds like Ferentz is saying, yes, Kittle has a great opportunity to ignite his career, but he has to lock in every rep, every second.

I wanted to go on a rant here about why expect a “move” tight end to block when his job is to catch passes and create mismatches? I think it’s because a personnel group can sometimes tip itself and thus limit what it can do because the defense sees No. 46 (Kittle’s number) and automatically knows that guy isn’t going to block.

Being flexible in your skillsets allows your position to be flexible in what it can do. That can be Kittle this season. He caught one pass last season. He’ll pass that in the first half of the first game this year.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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