QUICK LOOK BACK: From time to time during offensive coordinator Greg Davis' two years at Iowa, I've heard complaints that he doesn't use the tight end enough. It hasn't been a tidal wave of complaints, mind you, just some trickle here and there.
The quantity for tight ends has been there under Davis. Last season, tight ends accounted for 62 receptions and 2012, Davis' first season, tight ends caught 60 (including 45 from C.J. Fiedorowicz).
In the last seven seasons, only 2008 even comes close to those numbers. Brandon Myers, who's on his third NFL contract, Allen Reisner and Tony Moeaki accounted for 58 receptions. (Reisner spent some time in the NFL; Moeaki spent a couple seasons with the Chiefs and ended last year as a Buffalo Bill). Iowa tight ends caught 42 passes in 2010 (42 from Reisner).
Quality is a different argument and beauty is going to be in the eye of the beholder. Did Iowa go to TEs enough on third downs? On the goal line? Last season, TEs caught eight TD passes, with Fiedorowicz grabbing six.
Was TE a big enough element in the offense? That's probably going to be a question this season with 11 (potentially) wide receivers and at least five tight ends in the mix. Lots of bodies and probably not a huge number of opportunities.
FOURTH DOWN — CRITICAL QUESTIONS: Fiedorowicz emerged as a terrific blocker, specifically sealing the edge on the outside zone and creating an alley (please read in Vince Lombardi voice).
Will there be a drop-off in blocking?
Senior Ray Hamilton is 6-5, 252. He's been the No. 2 TE for much of the last two seasons. He's an experienced blocker. Junior Henry Krieger Coble is 6-4, 245. He's been used as an extra blocker in two- and three-TE sets.
What about junior Jake Duzey? Well, he's also 6-4, 245. He also happens to run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. As a prep at Athens High School in Troy, Mich., Duzey had an offer from Oregon. He also never threw a block in high school. When he emerged last season, Duzey said young tight ends have to earn the privilege of running routes by showing they have a handle on blocking.
“You’ve got to do everything,” Duzey said. “When I first came here, they said to play tight end at Iowa, you have to block. In high school, I played a lot of receiver and a little bit of running back. I didn’t really have to block. Just coming into camp that first year is a huge difference. It was just a huge process for me.”
Sophomore George Kittle, the slightest of the TEs who played last season at 6-4, 225, also showed he can block well enough to see legit playing time.
Sure, Duzey (19 catches, 270 yards, two TDs) is fast. Kittle (five catches, 108 yards) is fast. Hamilton, who caught eight passes for 95 yards, also did work over the middle of the field.
Why did they get away from the three-TE set that was so effective at Ohio State?
Ohio State tried to cover Duzey with defensive end Noah Spence, a 6-3, 252-pounder who's known more as a pass rusher. On the 85-yard TD Duzey converted, Spence tried to cover him in the flat. Duzey ran an up route that OSU didn't anticipate. Duzey had a career-career day with six catches for 138 yards and the 85-yarder. Fiedorowicz caught four passes for 29 yards and a 2-yard TD. Hamilton didn’t get into the receptions act, but after an abysmal performance running the ball against Michigan State (16 carries for 23 yards), the Hawkeyes were determined to run the ball and went to the heavy three-TE set.
Iowa's staff saw something it could exploit and hit it big. If it would've been an NFL matchup, the gameplan probably would've been enough. But Ohio State talent eventually held off the Hawkeyes.
THIRD DOWN — ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: It's time for Fiedorowicz to get paid. He played in the Senior Bowl and had a nice combine.
Out of the Senior Bowl, NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler wrote, "his production at Iowa is average at-best, but he was underutilized in the Hawkeyes offense. Fiedorowicz has the size and skill-set to start at the next level and be successful blocking and receiving." He also wrote, "Good versatility, showing the ability to come off a down block to get past defenders as a receiver. Good body control and soft hands for such a large man, traits that have led Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins to earn a lot of attention as a possible first-round pick. Fiedorowicz isn't as flashy as ASJ, but he's just as big and fast in a straight-line and is a much more physical and attentive blocker."
Ferentz said during the signing day news conference that CJF's body will make him a valuable prospect in goal line situations.
Redshirt freshman Jon Wisnieski (6-5, 222) jumps into the action this year. He'll likely start spring practice (barring any position changes) as the No. 5 TE. (Iowa has five scholarship TEs -- Hamilton, Duzey, Krieger Coble, Kittle and Wisnieski.)
SECOND DOWN — BATTLES BREWING: Really, not a lot of "battle" to this.
There might be some jostling for No. 1 target, but if last year's production means anything, it sets up like this, Duzey, Hamilton, Kittle and then Krieger Coble, who was targeted a few times in '13, but didn't catch a pass. He's a capable receiver (four catches for 30 yards and a TD as a redshirt frosh in '12) and will have a chance to earn targets.
Duzey seems to be the fastest, but Kittle would give him a race. Hamilton can move. Krieger Coble is athletic. This position is going to be fun to watch coalesce. Fiedorowicz was such fixture at the position. The re-build (re-shape is probably the better word) here will be interesting, especially if TEs combine to catch 60-plus passes again this season.
FIRST DOWN — SPRING AND BEYOND: Reps will be fun to track this spring.
-- Duzey might be in line for more targets, but Hamilton has played on the line as a TE in this offense for three years. He should assume Fiedorowicz's role as top in-line TE. Maybe Krieger Coble is the second in-line TE with Duzey split off in that wing/H-back spot.
Remember, though, the overarching principle of each TE being able to do all the TE work.
-- I've talked up Duzey, but don't dismiss Kittle. He was stride-for-stride with WR Kevonte Martin-Manley during one of his punt returns against Western Michigan. He caught a 47-yard wheel route against Missouri State. He caught a 24-yarder at Ohio State and three passes at Purdue. It's a small sample size, but it's a start.
-- No idea what to expect out of Wisnieski, but when he was recruited, he was rated as a high three-star by Rivals.
"He’s more the receiving-type tight end. He’s a guy who’s going to be able to be a factor in the passing game," Rivals midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "He’s an outstanding athlete. I really like Wisnieski a lot. We [Rivals] have him at the top of the three stars, the No. 21 tight end in the country."
BONUS ROUND — THE FULLBACKS: The fullback always will be a part of Iowa's offense. Iowa ran a 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends) quite a bit last season.
Ferentz loves fullbacks Adam Cox and Macon Plewa (both juniors).
Cox is in the mold of running back Mark Weisman. He's from Illinois. Too short to play linebacker, but too tough to keep off the field. Cox won't get a lot of touches (he's well aware of that, with three catches for 51 yards and four carries for 16 yards), but he's valuable as a lead blocker. At 5-11, 215, Cox has quick feet and was terrific with his head placement in heavy use last season. Defenders couldn't get under him and he had a knack at getting to the playside shoulder. He was especially terrific at Iowa State.
Plewa (one carry for 7 yards last season) is a former linebacker. He's 6-2, 234 and craves contact.
Their rough-and-tumble natures seem to translate to the team and, perhaps, set a practice tone that any coaching staff appreciates.)