By Chris Williams
The tight end position might be my favorite on the field. They block. They run routes. They catch passes. They do it all. The tight end position is a crucial one in Iowa State’s Tom Herman led offense.
Last week, CycloneFanatic.com sat down with tight end’s coach Courtney Messingham to get the scoop on Iowa State’s tight end situation heading into spring football. Here is the complete Q&A.
CF: Let’s start off with your JUCO addition, Ricky Howard. His JUCO coach told me that they wanted to throw him the ball more but it just wasn’t part of their offense. What will he bring to this team?
CM: To me, Ricky brings some of the same attributes that Derrick Catlett had. He’s a guy who is 6-foot-3 and about 250-pounds or somewhere in that area. He is big enough and strong enough to take on pass protection stuff if he needs to. He is big enough and strong enough to run block and be physical at the point of attack. Yet, he runs well enough that he can run down the field and catch the football and make big plays in the passing game. With us already having that mindset of “we need to be a hybrid, we need to be an athlete who can block, but also go get plays,” I think that Ricky fits right into that.
CF: Is it safe to say right now that Collin Franklin is your front-runner heading into 2010?
CM: I think going into spring ball Collin needs to take on a much bigger leadership roll. He needs to have the mentality that it is not just my job as a tight end but my job as a team leader and a senior. Can he get beat out? Sure. He can get beat out. he can’t worry about whether he is going to get beat out or not. He needs to worry about how to make himself a better football player to help our team continue to grow and get better.
CF: What about those guys breathing down his neck? Did anybody show you anything that made you think they might have a shot?
CM: I think that Kurt Hammerschmidt has the tools to be a very good football player here. Obviously, we feel like Ricky Howard has the tools to be a very good football player. As you watched our year unfold, we’ll be in a number of instances where we are playing with two tight ends so we’ll need at least two tight ends that we feel comfortable putting on the field. I think we have the people in place to give us that ability.
CF: You always hear about learning curves with JUCO’s…what is that like for a tight end?
CM: It kind of depends on the individual. Obviously, being here for spring ball will greatly increase his ability to help us in the fall. If he were to get here when two-a-days started, he would be way, way behind this team as far as getting on the field and being able to help us win football games. With us having him for a spring and then two-a-days, I think that a JUCO tight end will be able to help us, get on the field and make us feel comfortable with our system.
CF: While sitting in the press box, the tight end across the middle seemed open a lot this year. Is using your tight ends something that we might see more of in the future at Iowa State?
CM: I think that it all kind of goes back to what is the defense going to do and what are they going to do to try to take away our run game? Most of the time, when you see us throwing the ball over the middle to the tight end, it is off of some sort of play action. As an example, Collin had a nice catch against Minnesota in the bowl game right over the middle. That was off of play action. The more we can run the football, the more those guys have opportunities to make a big play down the middle of the field. I think that will be something that we need to be able to do and with Alexander Robinson coming back, people are going to have to figure out how to stop him. That should help us as a tight end group catching footballs.
CF: In the current Iowa State offensive system, what does a perfect tight end look like?
CM: A perfect tight end is truly a hybrid athlete that weighs somewhere in the 245-pound range. He probably is 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. He can stretch people down the field. He has enough speed to run down the field but has enough of a physical, nasty mentality to block people at the point of attack. Those guys are hard to find but I feel like we have some in our system.
CF: When you work with the tight ends during the season, how much of their time is spent on blocking compared to route running and receiving?
CM: We actually have to split our time up wisely when it comes to individual time. We generally would spend, as an example, if we’ve got a block of time, 2/3 of it is probably towards the blocking aspect of it and a third towards the receiving aspect.
CF: Does that change per week?
CM: Yeah. It changes more by whether or not if we feel we’ll have the tight end attached or next to the tackle, or whether or not our game plan is if he’ll be split away from the line. If he is playing more at a wide out position, we’ll work on blocking downfield like a receiver. If he is going to be attached and next to the tackle, then we’ll do more blocking stuff that would be like a traditional tight end.
CF: Heading into spring ball, what is the number one goal you are telling your guys?
CM: The first thing that we have already talked about as a position group is individually, how do I make myself better? We have time now between the first day of school for the second semester, up until the first day of spring football. They need to use all of that time to help themselves become a better football player. If that is learning the offense better, catching more balls, just working change of direction drills with our strength and conditioning staff, if that is just busting their tail in the weight room and trying to gain some quality weight…they know that it doesn’t matter who is in front of them or who is behind them. How do I get myself better to be able to compete when spring ball starts?