Tight end competition, integral for offense

By Ian Smith, Contributor
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Kurt Hammerschmidt (pictured above) has a great description of what an Iowa State tight end should be.

“I like to consider us like a Hybrid Escalade,” the junior said.

That’s because in the Cyclones’ offense, the tight end must be a dynamic receiver in the passing game and punishing blocker on the ground. A versatile, explosive, powerful athlete that can quietly dominate a game.

In other words, Collin Franklin.

There in lies the problem. Franklin and his 54 catches, 530 yards and three touchdowns are now in the National Football League. Hoping to replace him is a group of relatively unknowns, led by Hammerschmidt.

“It’s wide open (for the starting spot) right now,” Iowa State tight ends coach Luke Wells said. “Kurt has a little more experience. Kurt and Ricky Howard have game experience from last year. By the end of spring, Reid Branderhorst was right in the middle of it. He proved in the spring that he can be a guy that helps us win games. Pierce Richardson is a young guy that is improving. I’m excited to see Ernst Brun and see if he’s a guy that can help us win too.”

A handful of names, but the Cyclones need just one to snatch the spot. Hammerschmidt – who stands 6-foot-6, 260 pounds – is listed No. 1 on the depth chart after catching five passes last season.

Ricky Howard didn’t catch any balls last season but as a senior, he has a chance to earn the spot. Branderhorst is a former basketball player from Simpson College and his athleticism is intriguing.

The wildcard in the bunch is Brun, who transferred to Iowa State from Mount San Antonio College. The three-star recruit will practice with the Cyclones for the first time in fall camp.

“I think it will be more by committee as that group takes the field,” head coach Paul Rhoads said. “I think you’ll see a lot of those guys out there and that’s probably how we’ll attack that position all season.”

As fans saw with Franklin last season, the tight end is a major asset in Iowa State’s offense. This year, the tight end could be even more instrumental in the Cyclones’ success because they are breaking in a new quarterback.

As Wells noted, it’s important for a quarterback to know exactly where his tight end is at all times either as a safety valve or as a threat down the field.

“They can be a big weapon,” Wells said. “We use our guys as inside receivers. We use them as fullbacks at times. We obviously attach them to the formation and show a more tradition look at times. They can be a big help in the run game with all the different ways we run the football. You need a guy that can learn all the schemes and passing routes.”

With 20 practices before the season opener, the tight end battle could be the second most important for the Cyclones behind quarterback. That’s how integral the position can be in Iowa State’s success.


Ian Smith