Peek Inside Practice: The Battle at Tight End

In our first report from Marshall football spring practices, we highlight the tight end position, and who is battling for what. We spoke with Marshall tight ends coach Bill Legg to get the lowdown from spring drills.

With two days of spring football practice under his belt, Marshall tight ends coach Bill Legg has come to a conclusion: The tight end position at MU is well-stocked and prepared for just about anything.

With the graduation of four-year starter Gregg Kellett at the tight end spot, Legg now has a lineup of five tight ends, and all are talented. The new guy is Georgia transfer Jason Rader (6-4, 261); he is joined by senior Eddie Smolder (6-3, 240), sophomore Joe Deifel (6-4, 235), freshman Chase Gibson (6-4, 230), and redshirt freshman Jeff Mullins (6-3, 252).

Georgia transfer Jason Rader brings experienced depth to the roster.

"Gregg Kellett was a four-year starter around here," said Legg on Tuesday. "And Gregg Kellett did a lot of things offensively for this football program. His abilities to do a lot of different things and wear a lot of different hats -being it playing a fullback position, a wing, a true tight-end, a flex-out, and do that kind of stuff…added a dimension to our offense that gave us a lot of flexibility."

MU tight ends coach Bill Legg

In 2001, the Marshall offense used one tight end (Kellett) in multiple roles. If Kellett had been injured, those roles would have been diminished, according to Legg. Now, with mulitiple wide-body tight ends to choose from, Legg is literally beaming with the possibilities his group can offer up to a wide-open Marshall offensive attack.

"We're going to have a two-headed snake, so to speak," added Legg, "in the fact that those two guys (Rader and Smolder) will concentrate on their strengths, because their strengths are opposite each other." Rader can be the primary tight end and do wide-receiver-like duties, while Smolder will be the H-back/fullback type things. Rader has already impressed onlookers in the first two days of spring practice with his pass-catching abilities. Multiple tight-end formations will become commonplace in 2002, according to Legg.

Joe Deifel is one of three younger tight ends looking for game experience in 2002.

In the span of two months, Legg has gone from having one experienced starter and two backups, to a position of providing two experienced starters (Rader and Smolder) with three backups. Quite a change in a short period of time.

"We've got three young guys in Jeff Mullins, Joe Deifel, and Chase Gibson, who all three are very talented young men," added Legg. "I think all three have the ability to be very good football players for us. It's not 'if' as much as it is 'when'. This spring is vitally important to all three of those young men and how things shake out."

As Marshall's spring drills escalate into full contact (Wednesday is the first day of contact), the battle at the tight end spot will become one of the more highly-visible ones to watch. Still, Legg is feeling pretty good about the five guys he has in stock, ready to go.

"From an athletic ability standpoint, I feel very, very good about all five of those kids," summed up Legg. "I think all five can be contributors."

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