The tight end position was going to be a thing for the Fresno State Bulldogs a year ago. They went out and hired a position coach, rather than working the few tight ends on the roster with the inside receivers as they had the two previous seasons. They recruited to the position, trying to find fits with big but agile bodies to run pass routes as well as bigger bodies to block. It would help the run game. It would help the pass game.
The anticipated production didn’t materialize, for a number of reasons.
But after the first of 15 spring practices, it appears Fresno State could be in much better position to make use of the tight end spot this season with the addition of JC transfer Gunner Javernick and addition to the position group of Kyle Hendrickson.
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Both can catch the football, which was a question particularly with Hendrickson, who spent his first three seasons in the program as a defensive end.
“Kyle is a big guy,” coach Jeff Tedford said Monday. “He has got the body that can hold point at the point of attack and can be physical, and he’s really athletic.
Fresno State tight ends in 2016 17 catches for 124 yards (7.3 yards per catch) 2 touchdowns 4 catches was the single-game high (3 by Kyle Riddering, 1 by Jared Rice in Week 8 loss to Utah State)
“I was really surprised at how he catches the football. I think that’s going to be a really good spot for him. I didn’t know what to expect, but he has really got pretty good ball skills. He was catching the ball over his shoulder, outside, things like that. He tracks the ball well. He’s pretty skilled, which is a pleasant surprise.”
Hendrickson wasn’t quite sure how that would work out, either. He had worked at the position in the Bulldogs’ player-run practices but had never played as a tight end outside of a few snaps in spot duty in high school.
“I’ve always kind of felt I was a little small to play D-line, but it was fun. I embraced it,” Hendrickson said. “When Coach Tedford told me he was thinking about moving me to tight end, it kind of brought a new excitement back to football for me.
“It has been a good change. I feel like I fit in. I mean, it’s tough learning plays. It’s another game on the other side of the ball, but I’m picking it up as quick as possible and I feel I’m a better fit.”
I feel like I fit in.
Fresno State tight end Kyle Hendrickson, who spent his first three years in the program at defensive line
Javernick and Hendrickson have a long way to go.
But they do fit the ideal – a large body who can attach to the line of scrimmage and also run routes and get up the field.
The Bulldogs also have Kyle Riddering, Jared Rice and Donte Coleman back, and they could develop into tight ends or be used in more of an H-back position.
Riddering last season led Bulldogs tight ends with seven receptions. Rice had four including two touchdowns. Chad Olsen had six catches before he was lost to an injury and eventually left the program.
But they were somewhat limited as run blockers – Rice last season was listed at 216 pounds, Riddering at 223 and Coleman, who was taking a redshirt season, at 242. And they were often used as pass protectors rather than pass receivers to help an offensive line that struggled to protect the quarterback – Fresno State last season allowed 31 sacks, ranking 11th of 12 in the Mountain West.
6 Fresno State’s rank in the Mountain West last season in passing offense at 213.1 yards per game
“Some of it is you have to have the right body type first,” Tedford said. “Here, the tight ends before were more spread-out receiver guys, 215 pounds. So we need to grow those guys and also we have guys coming in to compete at that position. But we need to get their body type where they can block on the edge and still be able to run.”
If the Bulldogs can get there, they could add to an offense that struggled to put up points a year ago, and at this point they appear to be ahead of the game.
“We use the tight end a lot more than I’ve seen in the past and that’s also really exciting for me, moving to tight end,” Hendrickson said. “We have to know run blocks, pass routes, everything. We’re utilized so much it’s good to almost feel like you’re a huge necessity for this offense and it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it.
“There’s still a long way for me to go, but I like looking at it as a tackle-hybrid. So block, block, block and then the one play they let you out, no one is expecting it. I’m trying to get better at that and everything I do here.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada