CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s tight end room was dealt a severe blow when 2019 preseason All-American Briley Moore announced he was entering the transfer portal two weeks ago.
Moore recently told The Gazette he’s trimmed his list of schools to Baylor, Missouri and Kansas State.
Regardless of where Moore ends up, though, UNI offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Ryan Mahaffey will have his work cut out to create a more productive group than 2019’s, which struggled after Moore’s season-ending injury in Week 1 against Iowa State.
When Moore was healthy in 2018, Panther tight ends totaled 52 catches for 708 yards and six touchdowns. Without Moore last season, UNI’s tight ends totaled 14 receptions for 103 yards and zero trips to the end zone.
That lack of production certainly impacted Mahaffey’s ability to tap into all his play calls and therefore impacted redshirt freshman quarterback Will McElvain.
Moore’s injury wasn’t the only major blow to the position last season. Backup Tristan Bohr — who quickly proved himself as a capable pass-catcher — suffered a season-ending injury in the season’s fourth game at Weber State. By suffering his injury in the season’s fourth game, Bohr was able to maintain a year of eligibility and will return this fall as a fifth-year senior.
Redshirt freshmen Jayden Scott and Alex Allen held the position down with the help of offensive linemen Matthew Vanderslice and Colton Leuck, who occasionally contributed as extra blockers.
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Scott got the most snaps in Moore and Bohr’s absences, by far, and should have the opportunity to earn more looks after being forced into action last season. Neither Scott nor Allen, though, were able to put one dynamic, explosive play on tape with their opportunities. So, it’s not hard to understand how fans could be particularly concerned with where things stand at what’s become such an important position.
The Panthers signed one tight end in their 2020 recruiting class. Noah Abbot, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end from Bettendorf, will join the team this summer, but Coach Mark Farley mentioned earlier this year that his 2020 class of recruits was largely a developmental group.
Maverick Gatrost will enter 2020 as a redshirt freshman after having his name routinely mentioned last year as possibly getting into the mix after the barrage of injuries. Ultimately, the former Center Point-Urbana standout never got an opportunity and, similar to Scott and Allen, will have to earn his way to more targets this season.
What could work in UNI’s favor is the likelihood Moore had one of a number of full scholarships, giving the Panthers the requisite financial ammunition to peruse the transfer portal before fall camp and make a healthy and compelling offer to any potential Power 5 tight end who is seeking a larger role elsewhere.
UNI’s offense was able to be dynamic and make big plays without Moore last season, but his absence became obvious in the run game and on third downs when McElvain needed a big, reliable receiver to count on.
Without the addition of a transfer, UNI’s tight ends will enter fall camp with the biggest question marks of any position on the roster. With a transfer or two, things could look better on paper. However, much like its offensive line, living up to expectations of making the FCS championship game will likely require a summer makeover at the position.