By COURTNEY BAUMANN | firstname.lastname@example.org
Under Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz’s tenure, seven tight ends have been drafted by NFL teams. Six more have signed free-agent deals. This is not including George Kittle, who is projected to be a mid-round draft pick.
That being said, Iowa likes its tight ends.
This year, though, the Hawkeyes have a group of guys at the position without a whole lot of game experience. Of the seven currently listed at tight end on the roster, four are returning first-year letter winners. Two — Noah Fant and Peter Pekar — combined for 10 catches last season.
Those who did play were primarily blockers, but now with the absence of Kittle, there will be room for them to step into more of a receiving role.
Tight-end and special-team coach LeVar Woods took to the podium Wednesday afternoon in the Hansen Football Performance Center to discuss spring practice, tight ends, and the upcoming offensive outlook.
Young, no, inexperienced
Woods has his eyes on a few of the young guys in his group to step up and possibly stretch the field as Kittle could.
Those that he mentioned by name were Fant, Shaun Beyer, and TJ Hockensen. Beyer and Hockensen, both redshirt freshmen, spent last year on the scout team. Fant was pulled out of redshirt to play as a true freshman and had 9 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Although Woods has seen a little bit of what Fant can do in a game, he said there is still work to do, especially when it comes to blocking. The same goes for Beyer and Hockensen, who will likely see plenty of time on the field in the upcoming season.
“Across the board, we’re all young, inexperienced I guess is a probably a better way to put it at the tight-end position,” Woods said. “All three [Fant, Beyer, and Hockensen] can stretch the field a little bit, developing as run blockers. Again, they’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination at either spot, either as a receiver or as a blocker, but I think they’re really working hard.”
As stated before, Iowa likes its tight ends. The coaches especially like tight ends who can play various roles in the offensive scheme.
Woods said he would like as many tight ends on the field at one time as possible, because he believes the guys play a number of parts in the lineup.
“We have some guys who are capable of doing more than just playing tight end,” Woods said. “We have some guys who can flex out at receiver, we have some guys who can play in the backfield as a fullback, do some kick-out blocks, some lead blocks, things like that.”
Just two tight ends on the roster are upperclassmen — seniors Peter Pekar and Jon Wisnieski.
Pekar started eight games in 2016 and saw action in all 13, but he had only 1 reception for 5 yards last season. His role was primarily one as a run blocker. Wisnieski, on the other hand, has played in only three games throughout his injury-riddled career with the Hawkeyes.
Woods said that has not stopped them from stepping up into a leadership role at spring practice, especially Wisnieski.
“I love having Jon in the room because he’s an older guy,” Woods said. “He’s good for the room. He’s good to help the young guys particularly. He’s a very smart guy.”