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Iowa Football 2020 (?) Position Previews: Tight End

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Time to prove TE U is TE TRUE

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

In the early-ish aughts of Kirk Ferentz at the helm of the Iowa football program, the team earned a reputation of spinning wheat into gold with its football recruits. Guys like Robert Gallery, Marshall Yanda, and Eric Steinbach encompassed the idea of not-so-sought after players putting in their work getting a chance to play. As the years progress, this stereotype lingers ever so slightly as Bryan Bulagas, Riley Reiffs, and Brandon Scherffs enter and exit the program.

Perplexingly, Iowa never got a stream of four-star or five-star talent at the position despite its track record of success. Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon being Ross Pierschbacher, a Cedar Falls native and five-star recruit along the offensive line choosing Alabama over Iowa in 2014. He’s now on the Washington Football team after starting 57 games between guard and center for the Crimson Tide. I don’t think anyone can blame him for his choice, but Iowa was never really in the mix with his college decision.

As Rust Cohle fanatics, we all know that time is a flat circle. Iowa finds itself with a new designation for dominance: TE U. Tony Moeaki, CJ Fiedorowicz, Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle walked so TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant could run. And signs are pointing that the next guy in line is a sprinter.

Right now results are mixed on the recruiting trail if Kittle’s Barstool presence has helped (or hurt) the Hawkeyes. It’s too early to tell what Fant and Hockenson will amount to. Recent signees like Luke Lachey, Logan Lee and Josiaha Mianemen have enough to get excited about in their own ways, but none were near the top of their class in national TE rankings on the recruiting circuit. But neither was Sam LaPorta.

So I surmount this season (this upcoming season, whenever it is) will be a big one for Iowa tight ends. Iowa amassed just over 400 yards from its tight ends in 2019, the lowest amount since 2016 when an under-utilized Kittle was basically a one man show at the position. That was the case (to a lesser, but also greater) degree with LaPorta last season. It might be the case again, but I don’t think so. Still, the light is going to shine bright on TE1 at TEU. And if Iowa can produce bigly at the position, it should generate biglier hype among the youths looking to play college ball and beyond.

LaNext

There’s really nothing new I can say about Sam LaPorta after Tnels broke it down last month. I’ll give you time to go read that.

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My only observation is it’s hilarious how much we’re (I’m) hyping up a guy who had just 15 receptions and 188 yards in his only season of action so far. It’s certainly not unheard of in the college football blogosphere, but still funny. It’s also a victim of circumstance, as he and Shaun Beyer are now the only tight ends on the roster with any game action whatsoever, let alone actual production. And it didn’t take long at all for a true freshman LaPorta to surpass Beyer on the depth chart.

In LaPorta, I think best case scenario is we have three more years of really solid to great production at the position. Worst case scenario is we only have two more years of it ;)

In any case, LaPorta is Iowa’s next every-down, receiving threat tight end and the offense is only the better for it.

The security blanket

Having Shaun Beyer around is important for a lot of reasons. It lessens the drop off between LaPorta and the next guy, and places someone with vast knowledge of the playbook inside the tight end room. Though we sort of already know what we have in Beyer—a good blocking tight end with solid hands but little playmaking ability—means it’s unlikely the senior will be usurped for an up-and-comer who may show more promise. An extra blocker could be useful on a team that just lost a tackle to the first round of the NFL draft, and his steady hands could prove invaluable for a greenhorn at quarterback.

A converted wide receiver, Beyer didn’t see serious reps until 2019, thanks largely to being buried behind Hockenson and Fant. He didn’t make the most of his opportunity early on (this is an unfair characterization but speaks to my point anyway) and left the door open for LaPorta to take his reps as senior Nate Wieting punched his union card.

Wieting and Beyer combined for just 17 catches and no scores on 237 total yards receiving, and that’s just not really going to cut it. But I like to think a LaPorta and Beyer 1-2 punch at least doubles the above production and adds a few scores will or would.

With the season in jeopardy, and no spring camp to really leak anything out, I’m not sure what the plan is for these two. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Beyer remains TE1 for any amount of time, but this staff knows LaPorta is the prized calf. The optics of putting LaPorta behind Beyer on the two-deeps doesn’t really matter, especially when your playbook of two tight end sets reads like the talmud.

The rest

No spring camp means no spring two deeps means I have no idea who TE 3 is. Josiah Miamen redshirted in 2019, making him the next tight end recruit with the most time on campus. Bryce Schulte joined the team as a walk-on lineman in 2017 and switched to tight end after redshirting, but has only seen action on special teams. It’s the same story for Tommy Kujawa, but with even less playing time.

Luke Lachey and Elijah Yelverton were relatively heralded recruits in 2020, but I suspect they’ll need some work after we’ve all spent this year in the Bad Place. I can’t tell you who between those two will emerge, but I can tell you Elijah has great facial hair. He also comes from Texas, if you feel like weighing that into consideration.

Jackson Frericks and Andrew Wilson appear on the roster as young walk-ons as well, but this room is already crowded as is. Gun to my head we’ve got LaPorta, Beyer, and Miamen as the top 3, and the rest are fighting for gunner duty. I don’t know when Iowa takes the field next, but I do know I won’t be worried about the tight ends as long as LaPorta and Beyer are there.