I guess I'm not really trying to make excuses for them. I'm just trying to offer some alternative explanations. Eh. I guess it depends on what you define excuse as.
Scout.com put out an non-conference grade report for the offense today. The worst grade was for the TE position, claiming that only Derby's production and blocking has kept it from garnering an F. I find this wrong for a couple of reasons.
A couple of days ago, I looked at the percentage of passing yards gained by the WRs. So far this year, they have roughly 82% of all receiving yards. The next closest in the past 8 years were about 72-73%. After that, we're into the sixties. The lowest came in 2008 at 60% when the Hawkeyes featured three NFL tight ends in Myers, Reisner and Moeaki.
The chicken-or-the-egg question could arise here, asking, "Are the tight ends getting little notice because of wide receivers' abilities, or are the WRs getting more production because of the lack of the TEs abilities?" Because of my second explanation, I believe it's the former.
Vandenberg locks onto one receiver and rarely through his progressions. Some (or one) has suggested this is by design: college QBs, at least Iowa's, are not generally asked to make progression reads; they look to see if the first receiver is open and if not, check down to the running back.
I do not believe this is true for a couple of reasons: first, my own logic and common sense (not to say that mine is any better than other, it's just what I believe) - I don't see how an effective "pro-style" offense can work with only one read and one check-down. Also, I have not heard this suggested by any coaches, players or writers. Third, it has actually been suggested (by Brian Billick in the case I can remember) that Vandenberg was locking onto one WR too much.
In his pointing this out, Billick showed two instances, just in the matter of a few plays, where the TE was wide open, meaning: people were running away from the TE to cover someone else, and/or there was no one within five yards of the TE. On one of the plays, Vandenberg forced it into coverage for an incompletion. On the other, he had checked down to Marcus Coker when he was well-covered for a one or two yard gain.
The tight ends are being kept into block more than usual, at least a little. I don't have the numbers, so I can be completely wrong on this. This does seem true, however, in an anecdotal sense and in a common sense way. For one reason, the team has three viable WRs and a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield in Coker (not quite so shifty as a LeSean McCoy, but he has good hands). If this were true even without regard to the TEs' abilities, it would still make sense that it would be rare for the TE to go out. Now, whether the coaches have designed this because the TEs are lacking, is a question to be explored.
Also, and this is complete conjecture on my part, but it just seems true, Iowa is running fewer play-action plays off of the I-formation and single-back, and this seems to be a bread-and-butter pass play for the tight ends, especially on the seam routes.
So anyway, I'm not here to say that the tight ends definitely aren't performing up to par. These are just some of the things I noticed a lot more than any certain suckage by the tight ends. Thoughts?