Tight Ends Work to Move Forward, Figuratively

Hawkeye Fan Shop — A Black & Gold Store | 24 Hawkeyes to Watch 2016-17 | Hawk Talk Monthly — Oct. 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Running backs want to run. Receivers want to receive. Tight ends want to… block?
Whether they want to or not, it’s on the top of the list when it comes to helping the Hawkeye offense.
“It starts with the run game at Iowa,” said University of Iowa assistant coach LeVar Woods, who is in his second season coaching Hawkeye tight ends. “We have to do a better job at the point of attack blocking at the tight end position.”
And once his position group can do that, they can turn their attention to making plays down field.
“Eventually when we get into the pass game,” Woods said, “(and) get involved, (that’s when we) catch the ball, protect the ball, and score touchdowns.”
That’s the sexy part of football, scoring touchdowns. A year ago junior tight end George Kittle caught six of quarterback C.J. Beathard’s 17 touchdowns, more than any other Hawkeye. This year his overall numbers are on pace for a career season, and on Tuesday he was named to the John Mackey Midseason Watch List — an award that keeps tabs on the nation’s top tight ends.
“George has been doing a good job,” Woods said. “He’s far from where he can be, but he’s working every day to be the best player he can be. He has a bright future ahead of him. He just has to keep working every day. Midseason accolades are great, but they don’t mean anything. We’re working to see (results) at the end of the year when things count.”
Part of Kittle’s progression has been a combination of playing time and targets. In 2015, he shared tight end duties with Henry Krieger-Coble, who snagged 35 catches for 405 yards before moving on to the NFL.
This year Kittle the lone senior among a position group that includes five freshmen, including true freshman Noah Fant. The Omaha, Nebraska, native has appeared in just three games, but saw a significant increase in playing time in the Hawkeyes’ win at Minnesota.
“He’s been working every day to get better,” Woods said. “There have been some improvements and we are trying to put the hammer on him a little bit to move forward.”
Woods said the entire unit has committed to improving every snap, every day, and every week.  The trick now is to expedite the progress before Saturday, when Iowa puts its eight-game road winning streak on the line against a Purdue team trying to win consecutive games for the first time since 2012.
“The focus this week has been on improvement and how fast we can improve to get this unit better, this offense better, and this team better,” Wood said.
The Hawkeyes and Boilermakers kick off Saturday at 11:01 a.m. (CT). The game is televised on ESPN2. Iowa returns to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, hosting Wisconsin at 11 a.m. A limited number of tickets are available at hawkeyesports.com, over the phone at 1-800-IA-HAWKS, or in person at the UI Athletics Ticket Office at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.