With Jared Rice, Cam Sutton and junior college transfers Raymond Pauwels and Juan Rodriguez, Fresno State has an enviable collection of tight end talent.
They can play at the line of scrimmage as assets in the run game and in pass protection. They can play in the pass game as challenging matchups for opposing defenses.
“Those guys, all four of them are very legitimate in their own way and the way the complementing factors that go with each one of them and working them together makes an offensive staff very happy,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said.
“There are a lot of things that you can do with that and expand on and make it tough on defenses, whether you’re shrinking down from empty and to a tight set and running the ball or keeping them out there and throwing it to them.”
But this spring the question is, do the Bulldogs have enough?
After Austin Alexander left the program the first week of spring ball and Jared Torres was moved inside to right tackle to bolster the depth of a banged-up offensive line, the Bulldogs this spring have only those four tight ends on the roster.
Six is optimum. Five is workable.
The Bulldogs can add, certainly.
But depth there could be a concern for the Bulldogs, who under coach Jeff Tedford have put as many as three tight ends on the field in some short-yardage situations.
Tight ends coach Scott Thompson spent seven seasons at USC when the Trojans were dealing with a depleted roster following NCAA sanctions, and has some experience making adjustments during the week in practice and on game day.
The Bulldogs have that going for them.
But it also is a matter of perspective.
“The big thing to focus on there is that we have four guys that can play,” Grubb said.
Fresno State does have that, and this season could be the most productive yet for a position group that has been in development the past two seasons.
In 2017 the Bulldogs’ tight ends were primarily run game pieces through the first part of the season. Rice led the group with 22 receptions, 12 of them coming in the last three games.
In 2018 the senior from Modesto stoked possibility for the position, catching 55 passes for 664 yards and three touchdowns and earning second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. The 55 receptions ranked second on the team to only KeeSean Johnson, who graduated as the all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
This season, with more pass-catching potential in the group, the Bulldogs’ pass game could blossom again even with a first-year quarterback.
Fresno State will be breaking out the tape after spring ball to take a look at NFL teams and college teams that put two and three tight ends on the field and into the pass game.
“(For defenses) It’s, ‘Whoa, who do we put on the field?’ That’s a definitely advantage,” Thompson said. “We just have to figure out the best way for us to get that done. You get to study NFL tape, study college tape. You have smart guys that can play and you put them in a bunch of different spots and a defense has to answer that.”
“It’s fun,” Grubb said. “I like tight ends. I love using tight ends. It’s a big time blessing to have those guys. That position is as tough as any position in football. You have to be intimately involved in the run game with all the line calls, everything that goes with that including pass protections and then be able know all of your route concepts and where you fit in each different concept and different personnel groupings.
“It’s not just line up out there and be the backside whatever. It’s a lot, and I’ve been really impressed with their intuitiveness with that.”
The Bulldogs got their Mountain West Conference championship and Las Vegas Bowl rings on Saturday after the second scrimmage of the spring, though initially they might have thought they were going to get yelled at for something.
“I called a team meeting and they didn’t know what it was about,” Tedford said. “Typically, if I call a team meeting like that it means somebody is in trouble, so they came in there wondering what the meeting was all about.
“I said, ‘I have a surprise for you and the coaches are going to do a skit for you,’ ... Then each coach got their rings and passes one of them out first, passed out the bowl ring. After that I said, ‘OK, see you guys. Have a good weekend.’ … Then said, ‘OK,’ and passed out the championship ring. It was good. They were excited.”