|87||Jake Duzey||SR(RS)||6-4/250||Tight End|
|80||Henry Krieger-Coble||SR(RS)||6-4/250||Tight End|
|46||George Kittle||JR(RS)||6-4/235||Tight End|
|86||Peter Pekar||SO(RS)||6-4/245||Tight End|
|81||Jon Wisnieski||FR(RS)||6-5/250||Tight End|
|85||Nate Vejvoda||FR||6-5/215||Tight End|
Previously on Assume the Position:
Aside from one game against Ohio State in 2013, Iowa's offense under Greg Davis has largely ignored the tight end position. It's been the most significant -- and most denied -- departure from the halcyon days of Ken O'Keefe, but it remains true. While he has talked about incorporating the tight end every August since arriving in Iowa City, and while he and Brian Ferentz have promised some sort of two-tight end system for nearly as long, Davis failed to take advantage of C.J. Fiedorowicz in any meaningful way and had no use whatsoever for Ray Hamilton last season.
And now, with wide receiver in flux and an inexperienced offensive line in need of some help, that the four-star talent has left the position and the best returning tight end is out for at least the first month of the season. And so Davis will certainly do what he's done every year: Tell us he's incorporating the tight end in August and forget the position completely by September.
The Exception that Proves the Rule
Jake Duzey (#87, Senior (RS), 6'4, 250 lbs., Athens HS (Troy, Mich.))
Quick: Name the Big Ten tight end who caught the most passes in 2014.
Nope, not him.
Not him either.
Here's a hint: He technically wasn't even a starter for most of the year.
That's right, it was Duzey, who caught 36 passes last season for 390 yards and three touchdowns, despite being a nominal backup at the position. Duzey's output came in fits and starts: 15 of his 36 receptions came in just two games (UNI and Maryland) and 262 of his 390 yards were in three games (Maryland, Illinois and Wisconsin). In six games, he was held to less than 12 yards receiving; in three contests, he was shut out entirely.
The problem, of course, is that Iowa has absolutely no idea what to do with Duzey. He runs and catches like a receiver, which would make him a prime candidate to split wide and provide Iowa some perimeter versatility if that wasn't too new-fangled a concept for this offense. His blocking remains occasionally suspect, which makes him a liability in non-passing situations on a team that is entirely based on outside zone as its running play of choice. And his particular set of skills -- he's an exquisite route runner and not afraid of anything over the middle of the field -- doesn't jive particularly well with an offense that seems intent on finding a way to run a negative out pattern on every play. It's not a coincidence that Duzey's best days last season were games in which Iowa was trailing (half his yards against Illinois came when Iowa was down 7-2 early); when Iowa opened up and threw the ball downfield, Duzey was as dangerous a player as Davis had at his disposal. That simply didn't happen enough to stop things like "seven catches for 34 yards against Northern Iowa" from happening, too.
Of course, there is one other concern about Duzey that will be a bigger short-term factor than Davis or blocking ability: He had knee surgery in late April and is set to return in August at the absolute earliest. More likely, Duzey will miss at least some of August camp, which virtually guarantees he won't play significant minutes early in the season. Just what the doctor ordered for Iowa's offense in 2015.
George Kittle (#46, Junior (RS), 6'4, 235 lbs., Norman (Okla.) HS)
Iowa has a history of turning little-known projects into stand-out tight ends. There was two-star recruit Allen Reisner, two-star recruit Brandon Myers, and before all of that, zero-star recruit...damn it, what was that guy's name again?
What was that again, Coach? I couldn't hear it.
Oh, right, walk-on Dallas Clark. Thanks, Coach.
Anyway, from that long line of rags-to-riches stories comes George Kittle, an Iowa legacy recruit who got a last-second scholarship offer and has slowly developed into a viable option at tight end. Kittle joined the 2012 recruiting class when Iowa struck out on a pair of Signing Day commitments; his dad, Bruce Kittle, was an offensive lineman on the 1981 Iowa Rose Bowl team. His numbers have not exactly been exciting: Six career catches for 133 yards, with just one catch in 2014. But given that Iowa has had Polish Hat, Ray Hamilton, Duzey, and Henry Krieger-Coble ahead of him on the depth chart during those seasons, the fact that he caught anything more than a cold while sitting on the bench is a minor miracle.
All indications are that Kittle will likely start at tight end in the absence of Duzey, and is likely to give the position back upon his return. Still, there is ample playing time for a second tight end in Iowa's offense, so long as that second tight end is willing and capable of blocking defensive ends and linebackers for a living. Kittle looks ready to do just that, and should step into some bigger shoes in 2016 if not sooner.
While You Wait for the Others
Henry Krieger-Coble (#80, Senior (RS), 6'4, 250 lbs., Mount Pleasant (Iowa) HS)
Has there been anyone with the touchdown-to-touch ratio that HKC has put together in four years with the program? Dude has caught seven passes in his career, and three of them have been touchdowns. Think about that: In 32 appearances and four starts, Krieger-Coble has only been tackled four times on offensive plays. He has been tackled nearly as many times on kickoff returns (2) as he has on receptions (4).
In any case, the breakthrough year in which he gets tackled a whole lot probably isn't coming. His ongoing injuries, Duzey's track record and the staff's love of Krieger-Coble's cousin, the aforementioned Kittle, mean that Krieger-Coble will likely be the blocking tight end at the beginning of the season and back on squib kick detail later in the year. It's a sad ending for a player who always seemed on the cusp of something bigger than "seven career receptions," even if three of those were totally awesome.
Jon Wisnieski (#81, Freshman (RS), 6'5, 250 lbs., Dowling Catholic HS (West Des Moines, Iowa))
Three things about Wisnieski:
(1) He came to Iowa City with ideal height for a Hawkeye tight end -- just look at those listings above -- but it only took him one year to get to ideal size. Wisnieski put on 35 pounds during his redshirt season, and with Chris Doyle monitoring his every move, you can be sure that's not beer weight.
(2) He was already arguably the best recruit in Ferentz's 2013 recruiting class, earning top marks in both 247's rankings and their composite standings. He was a good enough high school player to get offers from Nebraska and Ole Miss (?!?!?), and some big names (Michigan, Notre Dame) were at least in touch.
(3) Iowa has struggled to recruit the Des Moines area for years, so to get Wisnieski out of one of the area's football juggernauts, then land his high school quarterback two years later, is a small coup for the Iowa staff that could well pay off down the line.
None of that matters to this year, where Wisnieski will be placed in a glass case, to be used only in case of emergency. But we're a year from seeing what he can do (albeit within the confines of this offense), and that's kind of exciting.
Peter Pekar (#86, Sophomore (RS), 6'4, 245 lbs., Greendale (Wis.) HS)
Peter Pekar picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many pickled peppers did Peter Pekar piOH GOD HE'S A WALK-ON FROM WISCONSIN SAY HELLO TO YOUR 2016 STARTING TIGHT END.