Tight ends critical to Louisville's offense

The tight end position has become critical for the University of Louisville offense under offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Four different players – including all four at one time on several plays – are now seeing time in the offense. Cardinal Authority has the latest on the tight end position.

It's no secret Shawn Watson likes to use the tight end position in his offensive schemes at the University of Louisville.

Watson, who is the Cardinals' offensive coordinator, said the program has "a whole lot of talent" at the tight end position and that he wanted to start "using them a little more, opening up the scheme."

Well, you could say Watson did that last week.

With fullbacks B.J. Butler (discipline) and Griffin Uhl (injury) out against Temple, Watson used four tight ends – including several plays with all four on the field at the same time. Gerald Christian and Ryan Hubbell have been the mainstays all season, while Zeke Pike and true freshman Keith Towbridge are seeing more time.

"We have four tight ends now," U of L coach Charlie Strong said. "The way the offense is set up it is so personnel driven that you are able to get those tight ends in there and they create mismatches.

"The tight ends are very critical to our offense."

Tight ends coach Sherrone Moore said he's been pleased this season because all four are "really improve and keep getting better."

"We practice hard and guys get the reps they need," Moore said. "Now, they're getting game reps and they're showing what they can do as a group.

"Gerald and Ryan have stepped up. Zeke Pike has come a long way and Keith still just has a small role but has done a good job of picking up the offense."

Christian, a junior transfer from Florida who sat out last season, is the only tight end who has played in all five games. He has 16 catches for 188 yards – 11.8 yards a catch – and three touchdowns.

Hubbell, who was a key member of the offense last season, missed one game with a shoulder injury but has three catches for 83 yards.

Pike, a former standout quarterback who committed to Auburn, sat out last season and has been "coming on," according to Strong. He has just one catch for four years but is playing more each game, including on special teams.

Strong noted Pike, who was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country out of Dixie Heights High School, made a "key block" on Charles Gaines' kickoff return for a touchdown against Florida International.

"He's developing," Strong said. "He's an outstanding athlete, so it's not hard for him to play another position. He needs to get stronger and keep working."

Towbridge is one of just four true freshman who have played this season, seeing the most action of any along with linebacker Keith Kelsey. Towbridge started off seeing action on special teams and the last two games at tight end.

In the win over Temple, Towbridge was targeted one time by U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the second quarter.

" He has come a long way," Moore said. "He still has some things to work on to get better, but he's come on a lot."

Running backs coach Kenny Carter lauded Christian for his ability to line up in the backfield and be a lead blocker – like a fullback.

"It's a product of our offense, moving guys around," Carter said.

U of L will get Butler and Uhl back this week, while Carter said he's also pumped about a newcomer at fullback – Lamar Atkins. The redshirt freshman from Miami was moved from linebacker about two weeks ago.

"We're excited about LA," Carter said. "We don't ask him to do a whole lot, but he's just so physical and very athletic."

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