Positional Series: Tight Ends

Ted Bolser is on the preseason watch list for the John Mackey award — given to the nation's best tight end — for the third year in a row. But can this be his breakout season?

Expected to Start

Ted Bolser/RS SR/6-6/252

Bolser has ben a very good tight end in his career at Indiana. He's also shown flashes of greatness. Bolser started his career with a bang in 2010, catching 27 passes for 407 yards and five touchdowns, the latter a record for freshman tight ends at IU and the most among freshman tight ends nationally. He was named to a number of dot.com all-freshman teams and honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media.

Bolser fell off the following year when he made just 14 receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown. In fairness, he was on a 1-11 team with an inept offense.

The four-year starter rebounded last season, when he set career-highs in receptions (41) and yards (445) while catching three touchdowns. He once again was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media and also picked up that distinction from the league's coaches. Bolser has been placed on the John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List for the third year in a row.

Many think Bolser, who is the third tight end in school history to reach 1,000 career receiving yards (he has 1,017 right now) can be even better. With so many weapons in the receiving corps, he probably loses some receptions that way. He can have the greatest impact on third down, especially in short-yardage situations, over the middle of the field and in the red zone.

In the Two-Deep

Anthony Corsaro/SO/6-1/252

Corsaro, who was named Indiana's Outstanding Walk-On Player of the Year as a freshman last season, has yet to appear on a box score. He made his collegiate debut in week two at UMass and appeared in four games overall. At 6-1 and 252 pounds, he fits the mold of a traditional blocking-tight end. He was one of five walk-on players that Kevin Wilson tabbed earlier this week as a scholarship player for the 2013 season.

Others in the Mix

Christian Englum/RS FR/6-6/240
Danny Friend/FR/6-5/250
Paul Phillips/RS JR/6-5/250
Sean Damaska/RS FR/6-7/240

Help on the way

No current 2014 commits

Position coaches

Seth Littrell

Littrell enters his second season as the primary offensive coordinator in addition to coaching tight ends and fullbacks. He spent the 2009-11 seasons at Arizona, where he coached tight ends all three seasons. He also directed high-powered passing offenses as co-offensive coordinator in 2010 and offensive coordinator in 2011. Littrell coached New England Patriots pro bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski in the player's final season at Arizona.

Before Arizona, Littrell coached running backs at Texas Tech from 2005-08. He got his start as a graduate assistant at Kansas from 2002-04. In 2000 he graduated from Oklahoma, where he was a four-year letterwinner as a running back.

Positional strengths

Few Big Ten teams can claim to have a tight end athletic enough to split out wide like Bolser, who adds an extra dimension to the offense as a good pass-catching tight end. Defenses are forced to put a defensive back on him because most linebackers can't keep up. And with his solid build (6-6, 252 pounds), Bolser can exploit those defensive backs because of his considerable size advantage.

Bolser's versatility gives the offense lots of options. He is an excellent target in the red zone and on third down because of his size. Forcing the defense to insert an extra DB to cover him can also help open up the run game and create mismatches in the opposing secondary.

And Corsaro has the look of someone who could provide Indiana with a good one-two punch at tight end and Wilson has indicated he will have some two tight-end formations in play as well.

What Needs to Improve?

1. Run blocking

Bolser is known for his pass-catching ability but is an average run blocker. Being more physical at the point of attack has been a theme at preseason camp as the offense attempts to revamp the run game. If he can improve his run blocking he will be on the field more. In turn, the offensive coordinators won't have to make a conspicuous substitution for Bolser that suggests a run play is coming.

Corsaro is 6-1 but weighs the same as Bolser at 252 pounds. With that build he can certainly assist in the run game. If he does that, fans may see those two tight-end sets that Wilson has indicated could be in play this year. That would just add yet another wrinkle to an already complex offense.

2. Red zone presence

Bolser may boast some eye-popping statistics for a collegiate tight end, but touchdowns is not one of them. In three years he has just nine scores, three of them coming last season. The closer a team gets to the goal line the less room there is to pass it in. That's where you'd figure a guy with the size and skills of Bolser would shine. He and Corsaro need to take some heat off the receivers and find a way to get open in the end zone more often.

Kevin Wilson's Take on the Unit.

"We have a good group and they've all looked good in camp,'' Wilson said. "Ted has been solid. Anthony has had a great camp and Danny may be one of the better freshmen that we have. And he may be the best blocker of the three as a freshman. Anthony brings us more options and that's why we've worked with more two tight ends on the field. It gives us a chance to be more multiple.''

The Players and Coaches Weigh In, too

Two tight-end formations hasn't been used often since Wilson took over, but Corsaro thinks it could add to the offense.

"If we go some double tight I think it just creates some mismatches because most of the linebackers are built to stop the run so hopefully we can beat them with our speed and our route running," he said. "And I think the more balance and the more things we can do like that will just change it up — (defenses) can't prepare for it."

Bolser said he wants more touches in the red zone.

"I'm hoping that he puts us in a lot more in the red zone," he said. "I mean (Wilson) trusts us with our hands and our bodies and it's hard to guard a 6-5, 250 pound receiver that can run some good routes. So we know that he's going to trust us and hopefully we'll get in the position of going in the red zone more often this year."

Bolser also stressed the importance of improving the run game. He said getting the run game going will open up the offense and lead to big plays. "Ted is doing a great job of really buying into the fact that he needs to make sure that he has a great season in the run game," Littrell said.

Overall Analysis

Bolser may be overlooked because of the talent at receiver. If the quarterbacks look his way more often and the coaches split him out wide, he could have a monster year. He has immense talent and has performed well but has left something to be desired. He'll need to mentor the multitude of young tight ends on the roster while improving his run blocking.

Bolser will put up some good numbers that will likely rank among the best tight ends in the Big Ten and even the nation. What remains to be seen is if he can have not just a good, but a great season.

Follow Joe Popely on Twitter at Twitter.com/joepopely

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