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The Importance of George Kittle and Playing Tight End for the Iowa Hawkeyes

A fresh face at the same old position

NCAA Football: Maryland at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past couple decades, the game of football has witnessed an evolution at the tight end position. What was once merely considered to be a sixth offensive lineman, the tight end has since evolved to be a hybrid role of wide receiver and offensive tackle. However, with the influx of spread offenses around college football, more often than not you’ll see one player acting as a receiver and a separate player acting as a blocker, rarely will you see a single player able to handle both tasks on his own.

And then there’s Iowa.

Yes, it’s true, the tight end position has experienced quite the evolution over the past couple decades, however, if all you’ve ever known is Iowa football, then odds are you probably weren’t aware of any changes taking place around the game. With Iowa, the tight end position has been uniform for decades now, as the coaching staff asks each of their tight ends to “do it all,” and that’s one of the unique things about Iowa football. Whether we’re talking about Dallas Clark, Brandon Meyers, Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki, C.J. Fiedorowicz, etc., Iowa tight ends are bred to be good receivers as well as great blockers, which is the biggest reason so many former Iowa tight ends are able to find some kind of success at the next level.

Across the country, there are many teams that tout a “balanced attack” on offense, however, there are very few in college football that are able to achieve the level of balance that the Hawkeyes have over the years. Kirk Ferentz and Greg Davis realize that, if used correctly, the tight end position can be a huge mismatch for opposing defenses and, say what you want about Greg Davis, but over the past couple seasons, he’s been able to really take advantage of this.

With last year’s starting tight end—Henry Krieger-Coble—and number one wide receiver—Tevaun Smith—both graduated and moved on to careers in professional football, the Iowa coaching staff is now faced with the task of replacing that production. Heading into the season, wide receiver remains a huge question mark for this offense, while the tight end position looks to have itself a clear successor in redshirt senior George Kittle.

Coming in at 6’4”, 250-pounds, Kittle may not be one of the more physically impressive specimens out there, however, what he lacks in height, he makes up for with tremendous edge-blocking ability, physicality, athleticism and a great set of hands.

Last season, Kittle proved himself to be a versatile weapon for Iowa as offensive coordinator Greg Davis used the 6’4”, 250-pounder in a variety of different ways. Whether Kittle was lined up in the slot, the backfield, in-line, or even occasionally on the outside, Kittle performed when his number was called.

Despite only playing 383 snaps last season, he was able to rack up 290 yards, six touchdowns, and 20 catches with zero dropped passes. In addition, Kittle was responsible for the key block on seven different touchdown runs, according to Pro Football Focus … all things considered, Kittle’s 2015-2016 season has to be up there for one of the more silently productive seasons in recent memory.

For the first time in a while, it appears the Hawkeyes will head into the season without an obvious one-two punch at tight end, as it’s just Kittle and a handful of unknown commodities (no tight end besides Kittle recorded a catch last season). If last year is any indication, I think it’s safe to assume Kittle not only holds up well in an increased role but is even able to emerge as one of the best tight ends in college football and becomes an important cog in the Iowa offense.

As of now, Kittle is still flying well below the national and even local radar as well. By the end of September don’t be surprised if he’s starting to make some serious waves around the country.