The U of L coaching staff has said on several occasions already during the preseason that the tight end position was going to be a big key. The Cardinals will likely use some two tight end sets and a focus will be on running the football.
U of L head coach Charlie Strong said he wants the offensive staff to find four viable options at tight end for the season.
"We want to run the football, so we have to have a fourth tight end," said Strong, who said he felt comfortable with three players already at that position.
Senior Nate Nord has been hampered by injuries his entire career but is finally healthy and ready to get a crack at the starting position as a senior. As long as Nord stays healthy, he's likely going to be the go-to guy.
Nord only has eight catches for 50 yards during his career but has improved his strength and conditioning and has really good hands. His lone touchdown catch was a memorable diving catch in the end zone in the Belk Bowl loss to N.C. State.
Junior college transfer Ryan Hubbell has drawn some rave reviews so far in camp and has been enrolled since January, so he knows the offense.
Chris White is a former walk-on from Elizabethtown who was forced into action last season and played in six games, starting three at the position. He made five catches for 73 yards and has improved in the area he needed most – blocking.
Freshman Hunter Bowles of Glasgow High School has a shot to be the No. 4 man. Bowles is a big guy at 6-feet-6, 255 pounds and played some defense in high school, so he has the athleticism to get the job done. He had 70 career catches for over 1,000 yards in high school and will likely be a freshman to play if he can get up-to-speed on what his assignments are in the blocking schemes.
"The tight end position is something that is one of the spots that we have really worked to grow," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
Ryan Hubbell, junior
Watson called the tight end position the most improved position on the team after spring practice. And a huge reason for that was the addition of Hubbell.
The athletic 6-foot-5, 225-pound Hubbell played two years at Iowa Western Community College and tight end coach Sherrone Moore said he's even better than the staff anticipated when they recruited him.
Hubbell is solid at run blocking and has good hands and speed.
Nord is likely going to be named the starter but Hubbell could very well lead the position in catches and watching two days in open practice looks like he'll be able to get a lot of yards after catch with his athleticism.
Hunter Bowles, freshman
Bowles must make an adjustment to the speed of the game and also get the blocking schemes down, but don't be shocked if he's one of the freshmen that see the field.
He has a great body for the tight end position, he can catch the ball and is going to have every chance to get on the field.
Watson said he told Bowles that he "has to earn it," but added that the former Glasgow All-State selection "will get the opportunity."
*Moore will have a crowded position on practice with Florida transfer Gerald Christian sitting out this season. Former Dixie Heights All-State quarterback Zeke Pike also just transferred from Auburn and it's likely that he'll be also playing tight end for the Cardinals. Moore said he would work those guys in to prepare for the future, while not taking away too many reps for the current guys.
*Josh Chichester graduated after 28 catches for 393 yards and two touchdowns. He was the Cardinals' third-leading receiver last season. The rest of the tight ends finished with nine catches for 97 yards.
*Bowles will wear the No. 15 uniform, which is not a typical tight end number. But it's the same number he wore in high school. Bowles' father is a former baseball player at the University of Kentucky.
COMING UP NEXT
*Watch later today for a feature on Nate Nord and a short update on Ryan Hubbell and why he could be the breakout performer.
*The position series will continue tomorrow with linebackers.