When a Hawkeye makes ESPN’s “College Football Live,” you 1) hope it’s not to have someone on to explain “AIRBHG” or 2) believe it might be a positive thing for a program that sails into 2013 with very little positive energy flowing in from the outside world.
So, when show analyst Danny Kannel, the former Florida State QB, introduced Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz as one of the nation’s top five heading into the season, it was a positive in what otherwise has been an offseason of gloomy forecasts for the Hawkeyes.
Fiedorowicz was picked as the nation’s No. 5 TE.
“The reason I say he’s a throwback is he’s the biggest of the bunch,” Kannell said. “He’s 6-7, 265. He’s probably the best blocker, but as we know in the college game right now, you don’t need a guy who can work that run game, you need a guy who can stretch the field.
“No less, Iowa has big plans for in store for C.J.”
Fiedorowicz finished 2012 with 45 receptions for 433 yards and a TD. As far as Iowa tight ends go, Marv Cook caught 63 in 1988 and 49 in 1987; Dallas Clark caught 43 in 2002; and Scott Chandler had 47 in ’05 and 46 in ’06.
Among tight ends in ’12, Fiedorowicz tied for ninth nationally in receptions. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Stanford’s Zach Ertz led tight ends with 69 receptions.
Beyond 45 catches, Fiedorowicz’s numbers lacked explosion. He averaged just 9.6 yards per catch, behind 18 other TEs in the Big Ten (granted, some were far less productive). He caught just one TD pass, but Iowa only threw seven, so everything is relative in that regard.
Keep in mind, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley led Iowa with 52 receptions and averaged just 10.8 yards a catch. The statement isn’t as much on KMM and CJF as it is Iowa’s lack of downfield threat. “Go” routes, when a receiver goes out and breaks a route in front of a defender, can turn into explosive plays, but only if the receiver breaks a tackle or two.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has talked about “taking more shots downfield.” We’ll see if that comes to fruition and if Fiedorowicz can join in on that fun.
Key 2012 factor: By any measure, it was a break out season for Fiedorowicz.
He went into ’12 with 16 career receptions. His blocking improved. He’s an element in sealing the edge on outside zones. Fiedorowicz became a go-to receiver in the second half of last season, catching 29 of his 45 receptions in the last six games. You might ask where he was in the first half of the season. You probably also would ask where the offense was in the first half of the season and probably most of the second half.
I asked coach Kirk Ferentz if defenses targeted Fiedorowicz at the beginning of the season or if he gradually grew into the gameplan.
“It can be both,” he said. “We don’t go in saying we’re not going to throw to a guy. Defenses dictate that. Part of it is he improved, too.”
Fiedorowicz came to Iowa with a ton of hype, something that Fiedorowicz never bought into or asked for. Last season, you could argue the 6-7, 265-pounder truly arrived.
“We recruited C.J. really hard and we had to,” Ferentz said. “He came in with a lot of hype. That’s one of the dangers of all the recruiting hype. These guys are still first-year players. Let them be first-year players, let them grow. You’re not afforded that luxury when you’re highly recruited. He progressed, he’s improved. I’m hoping to see his best football this fall.”
Offseason factor: Who knows how much it matters for a tight end, but Fiedorowicz will have his third different position coach. He started with Eric Johnson, who’s since had his duties shift to recruiting coordinator and D-line assistant. Ferentz has hired graduate assistants to coach the position the last two seasons. David Raih did it in ’12. This year it’s D.J. Hernandez.
From the small view we’ve seen from practices, Hernandez has concentrated on the physical aspect of catching a pass in traffic and making an athletic move.
Getting the tight ends involved in the vertical game, can that happen? Imagine what that would do for a passing game that tread water at best in ’12.
“That would open up so much more,” Fiedorowicz said. “The shorter routes, the running game, . . . big plays are really important in scoring touchdowns.”
Players have heard “big play” a lot from Davis during camp.
“Every day, offense and defense have their meetings and he’s always like, ‘Who’s going to make the play?’” Fiedorowicz said. “The big plays could open up crazy things in this offense. Our goal every week is to make nine explosive plays, five in the run and four in the pass. If you do that, you have a good chance to win.”
Competition: No one will take CJF’s role. It appears junior Ray Hamilton has settled into the No. 2 TE spot, especially in two TE formations. The only question in regard to Fiedorowicz is if Hamilton can elevate himself as a target. It’s possible.
Probably don’t read too much into the numbers from the spring, but Hamilton was right there with CJF in the Des Moines spring game, catching there passes for 56 yards to Fiedorowicz’s four for 87. At the Kinnick scrimmage, Hamilton was targeted more, catching three for 24.
I wouldn’t put too much stock into the “B back” role for the other TEs, Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger Coble. At best, that position would be a minor element and probably would split time, at the most, with a traditional fullback.
It should be Fiedorowicz’s ball, but Hamilton is a good athlete and could have his own breakthrough season.
Why No. 2?: Fiedorowicz is an NFL prospect. It’s something that Ferentz has used as motivation in the past.
Like his freshman year.
“Every practice, I was kind of taking plays off. In the NFL, they walk around and I wasn’t familiar working at that level yet,” Fiedorowicz said. “He was just getting on me to prove a point.”
“Definitely,” Fiedorowicz said. “No one wants to be embarrassed by coach Ferentz, obviously. Whenever he says something, you’ve got to take it to heart. It’s always good advice.”
O-line coach Brian Ferentz came to Iowa last season after a stint coaching tight ends in New England. His group included Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, brother of current Iowa TE coach D.J. Hernandez. (You know all about Aaron Hernandez’s murder case in Connecticut.)
“Whatever he becomes, I think that’s up to him,” Brian Ferentz said. “I’ll say this, he has a physical skill set that is impressive, but I think what’s important is that he goes out and demonstrates it on a daily basis here first.”
Outlook: All systems go for the senior. He has a giant eagle and American flag tattoo on his right biceps. If he keeps up the pace he set last season, get used to see that in HD next fall. CJF looked refined and relentless at times in the spring. He was less of a big target after catches, meaning he forced defenders to breakdown rather than launch. With 45 catches, he had a solid year last season, he just never dominated games. Maybe that’s next. It appears to be there.