IOWA CITY†ó Four former Iowa tight ends will compete for NFL teams this weekend and another is likely to resurface once he's healed from an injury.
Current senior C.J. Fiedorowicz has the physical tools at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds to join his former brethren at the next level. Fiedorowicz hauled in 45 passes last year, including 14 in the final two games. But Fiedorowicz also has the distinction of owning the lowest yards-per-reception average for a starting tight end at Iowa under Ferentz.
Fiedorowicz picked up 9.6 yards per catch last year, well below the tight end targets of Hawkeye past. Allen Reisner, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, caught 42 balls for an 11-yard average in 2010. Brandon Myers, now the New York Giants starter, snagged 34 passes for a 13.0 average in 2008. Buffalo Bills starter Scott Chandler led Iowa's tight ends three straight years and never dipped below 11.7 yards per catch. Dallas Clark, who now plays in Baltimore, put up more than 15.8 yards a catch over his two seasons.
So what's changed under second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis? That's a bit nebulous, Fiedorowicz said.
"Offensively, thereís only a certain amount of routes you can run," Fiedorowicz said. "Being a tight end, you can run under routes, corner routes, down the middle of the field. It hasnít changed that much. Iíve been asked that question a lot. Itís hard to explain."
In Iowa's opener against Northern Illinois, the tight end was targeted on only five of quarterback Jake Rudock's 37 passes. Fiedorowicz caught two passes for 15 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown. Backup tight ends Henry Krieger Coble and Jake Duzey also were targeted on incomplete passes.
For a group praised before the season as Iowa's deepest position, it's perplexing not to see the players get much involvement in the passing game in the first game.
"Where the ball goes is dictated by the defense," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But we like our tight ends. We think we have a good group. The play C.J. made was a really good play.
"It's a group we plan to include, and I think they will get their share of the balls over the course of the year."
The tight ends faced tight coverage on Saturday. Fiedorowicz was well-covered on most of his routes, which largely were located within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Rudock looked more to the perimeter, where there was more space between Iowa's receivers and Northern Illinois' defensive backs.
"Itís really what the quarterback sees," Fiedorowicz said. "Heís young so he tends to throw the receivers maybe a little bit more, to be comfortable with one-on-one coverage outside. Across the middle you see linebackers, defensive ends, safeties, itís hard to kind of see over the line. That might be the problem right now, but Iím not really sure."
Rudock noticed his tight end often was jammed on the line. Unlike the past when Iowa's quarterback relied on deeper drops, the offense now is based on getting ball out of the quarterback's hand more quickly. A fast cover by a linebacker or a safety negates a tight end's underneath route almost immediately.
"Itís tough when they bring those safeties down," Rudock said. "It makes it a lot harder, especially when the safeties come down in quarters defense. The fact is someoneís going to bump him and then heís going to go right to the next level and thereís someone already there."
Rudock first targeted Fiedorowicz down the field on a seam route, which was slightly overthrown. Fiedorowicz grabbed an 11-yard touchdown pass where the ball was thrown high and only he could catch it. Fiedorowicz later a 4-yard pass on an under route that broke to the outside.
There might be more opportunities to go down the field against Missouri State. Although the Bears run a 3-4, they also employ a traditional cover-2 look. That often leads to open routes down the seam with a tight end or slot receiver."We might open it up a little bit more this week," Fiedorowicz said. "If Jake sees us open, Iím sure heís going to hit us."