IOWA CITY, Iowa - At Iowa, good tight ends come and go. From Marv Cook to Dallas Clark, it's historically one of the stronger positions in the program.
That's probably why not much has been made of the Hawkeyes losing last year's starter, C.J. Fiedorowicz, to the NFL. The Houston Texans grabbed him with the top pick of the third round, the first Iowa player off the board.
"I want to carry on the tradition that he helped continue here with the great tight ends and the guys that have been very productive for our program," projected new No. 1 Ray Hamilton said. "As far as worrying about C.J. and all that stuff, C.J. is gone. It's a group of guys now. Some of the same guys but we've got a couple of young guys that we've got to bring along now. It's going to be a different look.
"And everybody's roles are going to be different, some expanded. People have to make the most out of their opportunities but in order for us to be successful as a team, which is most important, we have to be successful as a group and everybody has to focus on their role. We can't worry about C.J. C.J. is gone and we need to worry about us now and just getting our jobs done."
Fiedorowicz led Iowa with six touchdown receptions in '13. His 30 receptions ranked second on the team and his 299 yards were good for third. His graduation did not leave the cupboard bare, however.
Hamilton caught eight passes for 95 yards as a junior when he played the role of blocker in two tight end formations. Jake Duzey hauled in 19 balls for 270 yards and two scores while George Kittle averaged 21.6 yards on his five receptions. Henry Krieger Coble also returns with a good pair of hands, the ability to block and experience.
"Competition is what brings the best out of everybody. That's something we've been really good at doing here as a tight end group. The competition has been constant. You look 10 years ago, you look five years ago, you look now, the competition has been constant. We've got talent there but we need to go out there and produce," Hamilton said.
Unfortunately, the group will be missing redshirt freshman Jon Wisnieski, who tore his ACL in the spring and will sit out the season. His classmate, Ike Boettger, who came to Iowa as a tight end, has moved to tackle. The Hawkeyes did not sign anyone at the position in the '14 recruiting class.
Iowa began sorting out the tight end roles in the spring and will continue the process when camps opens next month.
"You would say that my role was different from C.J.'s role last year. He was asked to do a little bit more in the pass game. Your role is determined by whatever the coaches tell you is your role. If they tell you that you're going to go out there for 25 plays and block your butt off, you better go out there and raise a little hell for those 25 plays. If they tell you they're going to throw you 5-10 passes in a game, you better catch every one of them and break a tackle. It's just executing your role every time your name is called and ultimately helping your team win," Hamilton said.
Let's take a closer look at Iowa's tight end position heading into 2014:
Contenders: Ray Hamilton (6-5, 252), true senior; Henry Krieger Coble (6-4, 250), redshirt junior; Jake Duzey (6-4, 245), redshirt junior; George Kittle (6-4, 230), redshirt sophomore.
The Favorites: Hamilton will see a lot of reps on his ability to block like a beast, alone. If he gets chances in the passing game, he could be all-Big Ten.
Breakdown: Saying Fiedorowicz's departure is meaningless doesn't make much sense. He's a proven commodity thought of highly by the NFL. It's a loss.
That said, Iowa is fortunate to return talent at the position. It just needs to step into a bigger role.
Hamilton possesses the pedigree. He's big and fast. Opportunity might be the only thing missing to this point.
Duzey entered people's consciousness at Ohio State last season when he ripped off an 85-yard touchdown (second longest in Iowa history). It's a short list of tight ends to outrun the Buckeyes secondary. Becoming a complete blocker is the last piece of his puzzle.
Kittle looks a lot like Duzey. He provides a mismatch in the passing game. Entering his third season on campus, the former prep wide receiver should see improvement in his blocking with added strength.
Krieger Coble is more like Hamilton than Duzey and Kittle. He could move into the blocking role occupied last season by Hamilton. He's not a stiff, however, and has looked good in the passing game during various open practices.
While not as deep of a group as Iowa has had in recent years, there's a lot of talent and versatility in this foursome. It should allow the coaches to play mismatches as they present themselves and take advantage of what the defense gives them.
I'd be surprised if Hamilton doesn't take over the No. 1 spot vacated by Fiedorowicz. He's talented and a natural leader. He's also, by far, the best blocker among the returnees.
Duzey, Kittle and Krieger Coble will battle for playing time in camp. And as I said, their reps could be determined by match ups to a degree.
RWI (Rob Worry Index): Faint (other choices are Extreme, Significant, Moderate and Absent).