Tight Ends: A CF.C fall camp preview

THE COUGS graduated their top two TE's from '08. But Tony Thompson is back and there's a reason his blocking looked different this spring. Zach Tatman, a physical presence, was sneaky-good this spring catching the pigskin. Two developing redshirt freshmen, Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz -- are they ready to make an impact early on? A comprehensive CF.C positional overview of tight end follows..

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DEPTH CHART: TER-Sr. Tony Thompson (6-2, 241);  R-SrZach Tatman (6-5, 245);  R-Fr. Skylar Stormo (6-4, 253);  R-Fr. Andrei Lintz (6-5, 251);  R-Jr. Aaron Gehring (6-5, 249);  Fr. Elliot Bosch (6-4, 230)

PLAYERS LOSTDevin Frischknecht (Played in 10 games, with seven starts in '08. He had 17 receptions for 221 yards and one touchdown.)  Ben Woodard (Played in 13 games, with six starts in '08. He caught 16 passes for 201 hashes.) 

INJURIES: None

OVERVIEWOne of the potentially noticeable differences fans could see with the WSU's (still) new multiple-formation, no-huddle motion offense in '09 could come from the tight end spot. Washington State could implement two tights at times, split one out into the slot, run a tight end as a lead blocker -- and that's just for starters. Indeed, the varying things they might do with the TEs, at certain times and in certain situations, is considerable in Paul Wulff and Todd Sturdy's spread out attack.

Thompson is the lone returnee with notable Pac-10 game experience at the tight end position, (Gehring has seen time on special teams.) He repackaged himself physically this year -- he's listed at 241 pounds, heavier than last year, but it's distributed differently and he looked quicker this spring than he was last season.

Thompson's forte has been pass catching -- he has excellent hands. He's not been a bullish blocker in the past but with the physical changes, he was noticeably more consistent in sustaining blocks this spring.

Thompson is a details perfectionist-type, and while good things come from that, there have also been times in the past he's beaten himself up too much over something not executed to perfection -- and that can adversely affect what follows. This spring, however, he looked to have improved in that regard as well.

Tatman is the Cougars' most physical tight end. A newcomer to WSU this year, he'll have to adjust to the Pac-10 and spending the past few seasons on the hardcourt rather than football field. But he had more than his share of moments in spring football this April out on the Palouse.

Tatman is a former high school All-State linebacker and JC basketball player who walked on at WSU last year. He comes in thought of mostly for his blocking prowess, he's a physical player who can sustain blocks, but he also surprised in spring ball with the catches he made.

Maybe he shouldn't have -- he was a big-time grabmaster his senior year at Sprague High in Salem with 57 grabs for 855 yards.

Stormo was 230 pounds coming into WSU last fall. This spring, he tipped the scales at 253. Lintz has shown the same gains, arriving at WSU in '08 at 231 pounds and this spring checking in at 251.

They're the future at tight end but both are just redshirt freshmen. The Cougs, however, are hopeful both will challenge -- this year -- for playing time.

Stormo and Lintz are works in progress -- physically and mentally. Even though they've made substantial one-year gains physically, they aren't yet where they'll be in another year or two. Additionally, they're still learning the mental side of both the position and the game. Lintz was also slowed right out of the gate, he had much of his rookie season at WSU ruined by an injury sustained in a high school all-star practice prior to his WSU arrival.

Gehring has a solid understanding of what the Cougs are doing offensively, his biggest need is to continue to get bigger and stronger.

Great tight ends, by definition, are hard to find. He needs to have the blocking skills of an offensive lineman, the receiving and route running skills of a receiver and the speed, athleticism and lateral quickness to be a playmaker. And that all has to come packaged in a large sized frame with plenty of bulk to it.

The Cougs have some players in the fold who can have that kind of great year at tight end, but it remains to be seen if that year will be in '09. The answers start to come on Sunday.

AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: There are reasons to believe the group, collectively, will emerge. Thompson's spring indicated he's ready to take a large step forward this year, and he's become a better blocker. Tatman will provide thunder both in pass protection and downfield blocking, and as a receiver he's going to catch a few defenses napping, he'll surprise some 'backers in coverage with his athleticism. Stormo and Lintz might be on the cusp of turning that first corner and making more plays than usually seen of redshirt freshmen tight ends.

A PESSIMIST WOULD SAYThe Cougs simply lack experience here -- they lost to graduation their top two tight ends from '08. Thompson is a gamer and a half but physically he's not the TE prototype. Tatman could have considerable rust to shake off. Stormo and Lintz have potential, no question, but they might not be ready, mentally and physically, to get it done this year.

STAR PLAYER:  Tony Thompson.

UNIT STRENGTHFamiliarity and a better grasp of the offense.  There should be far less thinking about what to do for the most partand more reaction.

UNIT WEAKNESSExperience 

WULFF: "This is an area where we need to have players step up for us. Particularly the young tight ends in redshirt freshmen Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz. We are counting on those two to produce and help us. We have been impressed with Tony Thompson, who is a versatile tight end... Zach Tatman is someone who showed flashes of good things during the spring. He gives us some maturity and a physical presence." 

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