Iowa Position Preview – Tight Ends

Story by Levi Thompson

Iowa's Riley McCarron (83) and Noah Fant (87) celebrate a 42-yard touchdown reception by McCarron during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Purdue, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in West Lafayette, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Iowa City – The Iowa tight end pipeline isn’t drying up anytime soon. It may actually be overflowing.
It’s no secret that the tight end position plays a critical role in Hawkeye success. Even as recent as two years ago, George Kittle led the team in receiving touchdowns with six.

Beyond receptions, Iowa’s tight ends add another body upfront to support the run-heavy offense. Their run blocking is even more important with a guy like Akrum Wadley in the backfield who is much more skilled when he is running beyond the tackles.

There are no shortage of tight ends on this Iowa team.

Currently nine tight ends are listed with only one, Jacob Coons, likely to redshirt. That leaves eight others battling to see action on Saturdays. With that many, seeing multiple tight ends on the field is inevitable.

“It’s well documented, at least in our state, that we’re inexperienced at the receiver position,” Kirk Ferentz told reporters during Big Ten media day. “I think it’s fair to say we’ll play with multiple tight ends frequently, at least until some of the other guys get caught up.”

The preseason depth chart lists two starting tight ends. Ferentz alluded to the depth chart being meaningless this time of year, but it doesn’t change the fact that they have two TE’s listed.That is a new thing on Iowa depth charts. In the past, that second TE spot has been a WR.

Sophomore Noah Fant, a listed starter, ranks third among returning players in number of receptions from a year ago. He is trailing only Wadley and wide receiver Matt VandeBerg. Fant, who scored against Purdue last year, will be the largest target on the field at 6-foot-5. Fant has the ability to act as a third receiver when he’s on the field. His size and speed make him a dangerous target, and a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.

Fant’s counterpart, as of now, is redshirt freshman TJ Hockenson who is also known more for his pass catching skills than his inline blocking ability. As a high school senior from Chariton, IA Hockenson recorded an outstanding 85 receptions for over 1,200 yards. He probably won’t have as many balls thrown to him as Fant this season, but his experience as a multi-dimensional player will translate well into the college game. He rarely came off the field during his high school days.

Redshirt freshman Shaun Beyer, who played his high school ball at Cedar Rapids Kennedy, is another young guy who fits the athletic pass-catching type TE mold. He’s battling with Hockenson and Fant to earn himself some playing time, and he certainly has a chance to do so when you consider the Hawkeyes need for receiving threats. Beyer is 6’5 222 lbs and can really move for his size. He could give Brian Ferentz yet another tool to use in the passing game.

Seniors Peter Pekar, Jon Wisnieski, and walk-on Nate Wieting are all three more prototypical run blocking type TE’s. It’s safe to assume they will all receive some playing time in short yardage and goal line situations. At least until one of them proves to be better than the rest. Pekar, along with Fant, are the only two returning tight ends with any statistics from last year. Wisnieski is a guy who has shown flashes of ability throughout his career at Iowa, but he hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug. Wieting is walk-on who has impressed the coaches with his ability. It’s safe to say the amount of tight end usage is going to ramp up a significant amount this year because of need, but also because of ability and some new schemes.

New offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has expressed his plan to use the tight ends often in his first year in control. That likely played into the depth chart looking the way it does. What remains to be seen is how much can the offense, or will the offense, actually rely on the TE’s?

Running backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler are sure to be the feature of this Iowa offense. Then the tight ends, if Ferentz sticks to his Media Day comments, are the second most reliable option. Still, this relatively young group has to improve if they are going to pick up the slack for the mostly inexperienced and depleted group of wide receivers. Brian Ferentz’s chief task in his first year as offensive coordinator will be to find creative ways to get these TE’s the ball. He saw first hand how this can be done while coaching for the New England Patriots. It would be wise to assume he is going refer back to his Patriot coaching days in order to feature this group of talented players the way they need to be featured for this offense to be successful.

Overall Iowa’s tight ends are a diverse group of players, each contributing their own piece to the puzzle. There are nine total. By the time December rolls around it will be interesting to see how many of them actually see the field.

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