Iowa State Cyclones tight end Easton Dean (87) runs after a catch as Iowa State hosts Kansas at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. © Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK
The Iowa State tight ends know and understand the challenge they’re facing during the 2022 edition of fall camp in Ames.
They’ve got some big shoes to fill — two sets of them.
Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen, two of the best tight ends in Iowa State history, have moved on to the NFL, leaving behind a Cyclone tight end room that’s largely inexperienced, but intriguingly talented at the same time.
Fans and media alike expect the majority of the attention in the Cyclone passing attack to shift towards the wide receivers. Shoot, even the tight ends might expect that as every individual in the room works towards earning the trust of the coaching staff.
Yes, All-Big 12 H-Back and run blocking menace Jared Rus does return, but he brings only seven career receptions for 67 yards along with him. Iowa State’s tight ends as a unit, including Rus, caught 95 passes for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
That leaves 88 catches, more than a thousand yards and eight touchdowns left to be spread around the Iowa State offense.
Receivers will certainly pick up some of that slack, but the Cyclones won’t be throwing away the schematic advantage they’ve held the last several years with the ability to play three tight ends while still spreading the field in the passing game.
Like I said, there are some big shoes to fill.
“Our guys have been in that room, and they didn’t hit the transfer portal for the last two years,” Iowa State tight ends coach Taylor Mouser said. “They’ve sat here. They’ve waited their turn. They took their notes. They learned from two great tight ends with Charlie and Chase. I’m excited to have them go put their own twist on it.”
The idea of having multiple roles to fill in the tight end rotation would have been daunting at one time in Ames, but not anymore. While this room is inexperienced, it still features significant talent that has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity.
That talent includes redshirt junior, and once converted quarterback, Easton Dean, who has played in 25 games at Iowa State, recording two catches and a touchdown.
Dean was once touted by Matt Campbell as perhaps the most talented player in that room even despite the presence of Kolar, Allen and Dylan Soehner, another former Cyclone turned NFL tight end.
With those three players ahead of him on the depth chart, Dean had few opportunities to let that potential shine through. That most certainly won’t be an issue moving forward.
“I knew that he had the tools to be a really, really special player,” Mouser said when asked about Campbell’s comments on Dean back in 2019. “I don’t think people understand just how smart that kid is, as well. He understands everything. I have so much trust in that kid, just from a mental standpoint. His ability speaks for itself. He’s so loose, he’s so fluid, what he’s done in his commitment to the weight room. Yeah, I wasn’t surprised at all with what Coach Campbell had to say. I’m glad he did it because it had some pretty big shoes for him to fill from an early age.”
Redshirt junior DeShawn Hanika is another player with significant playing experience at Iowa State, appearing in 22 games as a special teams player across the last two seasons, but has limited experience playing the actual tight end spot in a game atmosphere.
The 6-foot-6, 238-pound Topeka native will likely be another key piece if Iowa State has any hopes of replicating its tight ends’ success.
“I want to make them creative and give them as many tools as they can to go out there. No matter what the look is, no matter what the coverage is. They could go out there and win,” Mouser said. “When the ball’s in the air, it don’t matter how many people are guarding them, it’s our football. It’s a mentality and you have it every day.”
Tyler Moore will be one of three underclassmen with an opportunity to prove themselves in camp and make an impact on Saturdays in Jack Trice Stadium this fall.
The 6-foot-5, 249-pound redshirt freshman from Johnston was arguably the most highly-touted tight end recruit Campbell and his staff have signed since they arrived in Ames.
While Kolar and Allen were each a work in progress early in their careers, Moore arrived on campus as an early enrollee in January 2021 with a college-ready body. He just had to pick up all the other things that went along with playing tight end in Iowa State’s system.
“He feels like he’s been here a lot longer than he has with him being a mid-year guy,” Mouser said. “It’s so important to him. Iowa State football is so important and being a tight end here is so important to him. Just how far he’s come mentally, I mean, physically, he’s always been huge, but he wears his emotions on his sleeve. He reminds me a lot of Charlie in that sense. He wants to make every play and make every block. Being able to handle adversity and come back and make big plays. The maturity that guy has had over the last two years has blown me away.”
The other two underclassmen in that equation are true freshmen Andrew Keller and Gabe Burkle. Like Moore, those two arrived with some level of fanfare, especially with Keller choosing Iowa State over Iowa and Texas and Burkle making his commitment over multiple Power 5 options.
Both players have impressed during camp, earning mention multiple times in conversations with folks behind the scenes in the program.
Does that mean two true freshmen could work their way into the rotation at tight end this season? As crazy as that would’ve sounded a year ago or two years ago at this position, the possibility and a path to playing time for those rookies are certainly there.
“We ask our tight ends in our offense to do a lot,” Mouser said. “I call those guys like the janitors of the offense because they have to clean up a lot of problems and mistakes that come up. They have to figure out and be savvy and be able to make the plays, whether that’s on the front side of our outside zone, or the backside of our inside and mid-zone stuff. I think those guys are a lot farther along than I expected.”
There is no beating around the bush with the challenge facing this group of Iowa State tight ends and the level of production they’ll be tasked with trying to help replicate.
The bright side is there’s plenty of talent in the room capable of filling those open roles. Experience, though, is a different story.
“I want to see who can go just a little bit longer, who could go just a little bit harder, and who could be just a little bit more gritty than everyone else out there,” Mouser said. “When you watch Iowa State football, that effort jumps off the tape at you. At least for the tight ends that I coach, that’s gonna be the first thing that stands out to everybody. We’ll play harder than everybody else on the field. Whoever that is in our room is going to be the one that plays and whoever we trust the most are going to be the ones that play.”