"If I were a coach teaching you the fundamentals of being an effective tight end it would start with blocking," said George. "Everything stems from that and if you can become an effective blocker, then the chances are you'll see more time on the field because you can be used within the offense to do more things. I feel that if you can become a good blocker your chances of playing in the NFL increase."
For Braden Brown, being a physical blocker is the first lesson he's tried to implement within his game.
"Learn how to be a dominating blocker, because if you can block as a tight end that's your number-one ticket to getting into the NFL," said Brown. "That's what I've heard and seen, and a lot of guys that are great receivers but aren't great blockers usually don't make it to the next level. To have that whole package of being able to be a dominating blocker and being able to [catch] the ball second is where the focus should be on.
"My whole life I've been kind of a big guy and so I've been stuck on the offensive line as an offensive tackle. So I've kind of learned those fundamentals at a young age. I've just grown and progressed over the years and I've had the ability to play tight end and run out and catch the ball a little bit."
With the absence of starting fullback Manase Tonga last year, Brown was selected to also develop at fullback. The selection was a complement to him, in that it indicated he could be trusted and had the physical tools to be an effective blocker. Fortunately for the team, however, Tonga is back.
"Now we have Manase back and that's a tremendous help to our offense having him back," said Brown. "He's a stud and it seems like he's never missed a beat. He's been gone for about a year and a half and it's like he's already never missed a step, so it's been great learning from him and I'm sure I'll get my fair share of reps. When I get in there I'll do what I can when I'm in there to not let the team down, but having his senior leadership in there and his knowledge of the offense really helps the team out and I look forward to learning from him as well."
Brown currently attends tight end and fullback meetings, learning the requirements as well as skill sets needed to be effective at both positions. He's a busy man, but learning both positions has provided him with a unique vantage point of how the offense fits together.
"I've actually really enjoyed it because learning two different positions has really opened my view of the field more in understanding what everyone else is doing," said Brown. "When you understand what the offensive linemen are doing from a fullback perspective, then you can say, ‘Oh, but if I'm at tight end on this play then this is what's going on over there.' So you can have a better understanding of what the other guys are doing and what needs to be done and that helps."
Vic So'oto, aptly named "The Terminator" by Coach Tidwell, was at one time in Braden Browns' shoes. A big, physical player, So'oto was selected by Cougar coaches to learn the fullback position while he was playing tight end. So why is it that tight ends are being asked to play fullback? Brown has a simple answer to that question.
"I think basically what they want from me is someone who will go out there and bang heads and create holes for our runners," Brown said. "I think the coaches are looking for a big, physical guy who can move a little bit. A fullback is very similar to a tight end, just lined up at a different spot on the field. He's a guy that can run, block and catch the ball when it's needed. A fullback has a lot of the same skills as a tight end, and so they're looking for a guy who is willing to do it and I'm one of those guys."
"He's a beast," said wide receiver Spencer Hafoka about Brown. "The guy is seriously a beast of a player. I don't really know how to describe him other than physical and big."
When it comes to catching the ball from the tight end position, there aren't many in the country better than 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound senior Dennis Pitta. Pitta has honed his abilities as one of the primary targets within the Cougar offense. Considered one of the top tight ends in the country, Pitta runs great routes and has a very good understanding of what a defense is trying to do prior to the snap of the ball. Being an academic All-MWC selection, he is able to marry his football savvy with his physical abilities to pick apart defenses.
"Dennis is a really talented athlete and he runs really great routes for being a big guy," said Brown. "I'm kind of a big, bruising guy but I need to work on getting that extra separation on routes and getting off guys and creating more space to get open. I've learned a lot from him that way."
Being able to learn and develop skill sets from some of the best tight ends in the country in Pitta and George is a rare opportunity, and Brown is making the most of it. He knows his time is limited, and being able to learn from them will soon come to an end. But before that happens, soaking in all that he can is a constant process.
"Right now is a real special time for me playing under guys like Dennis and Andrew because they're both, obviously, tremendous athletes and really great tight ends," said Brown. "I'm just doing the best that I can right now to learn as much as I can on and off the field. They do a great job with me in the film room along with on the field, so it's really important for me to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from them because they're both going to be playing in the NFL one day."