Fresno State offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau and tight ends coach Joe Bernardi still are figuring it all out, what they have and who can do what and how the Bulldogs’ tight ends will fit into this new offense that is being installed this spring.
But six practices in, it is becoming clear that more is in store for the position group.
In just about every one of them, at some point, a play has been made down the field by Chad Olsen, Jared Rice or David Tangipa and when not in a contact period also by Kyle Riddering, who is limited this spring while coming back from shoulder surgery.
Bernardi, along with new receivers coach Burl Toler III, has brought a different energy to the Bulldogs’ practices, and Bernardi usually is not far behind downfield with an emphatic high five for his unit.
“Could just be a coincidence,” coach Tim DeRuyter joked, when the plays made by tight ends came up. “Or maybe we just like watching coach Bernardi run down the field.”
But Kiesau suggested before the Bulldogs opened spring practice that the more multiple offense to be installed would have more in it for the tight end position, and his résumé includes the 2012-13 seasons at Washington, where tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught 69 passes for 859 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns and then 36 for 450 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns, respectively.
At Fresno State last season, tight ends caught 21 passes, 19 by Olsen. In 2014, Olsen was the only tight end with a reception, pulling in 13. When the offense was at its best in 2013, with Derek Carr at the controls, tight ends caught 27 passes.
“We’re going to be very involved in the offense,” Bernardi said. “We’re going to ask them to do a lot of things.”
The group, Tangipa said, is excited about the changes with the new system, which include a tight ends coach as opposed to working last season with the inside receivers – also, to see where they can take it in this offense as the spring progresses.
“Coach Bernardi is our position coach,” he said. “He’s coaching the tight ends. Last year, we had tight ends and inside receivers, and we were one. Now, it’s tight ends, so we get our own one-on-one time with more focus on how we step, more focus on our routes, more focus on everything about being a complete tight end instead of just being a route runner. Now we have to pass set, and we never did that before. I love it. I’m enjoying this time. I’m enjoying the spring. I’m enjoying actually getting to play football.”
How it all comes together is to be determined.
“We’re still evaluating the position and figuring out what they can do, but they’ve made some plays. It has been good,” Kiesau said. “The guys, especially Jared Rice, has really shown up in the pass game. But they’re still developing in the position. It’s something new, because they haven’t had this type of tight end in the past.”
But in putting it together, the Bulldogs will have two tight ends to impact the offense, an “H” being more of a hybrid pass receiver and a “Y” as more of an in-line tight end. This spring, the four players in the program are getting reps at both to best evaluate their skillsets, how they fit and how they best can exploit opposing defenses.
“Just because of numbers and the dynamics of the room are right now, I’m having everyone learn everything,” Bernardi said. “Once we get into fall camp and into the season, we’ll have it be a little more, ‘Hey, you play this spot, you guys play this spot.’ But they’ve responded. They’ve busted their butt every practice. I couldn’t be happier.
“I think Chad has a really good blend of physical tools, good strength, and he has the ability to catch the ball and run after the catch. Jared is coming along in terms of his blocking ability – obviously, that’s really foreign to him. But he is willing, and he hasn’t backed down from it all, which I love. David has done a great job in being an in-line blocker, and he has made plays in the pass game, and I’m pleased with that. Kyle Riddering has done a great job with his rehab, and when I do have him in different drills throughout practice he has been really good.”
Ultimately, Olsen and Rice are likely to be H’s in the Bulldogs’ offense along with incoming freshman Donte Coleman; and Tangipa and Riddering are Y’s along with incoming freshman Johnny Rojas (Clovis West).
Both positions within the group will impact the offense.
“My expectations are I want guys to be violent run blockers, I want guys to be dependable pass catchers, and I want guys to be consistent playmakers, and consistent playmakers means you’re springing a big run with a block, you’re making a key third-down catch staying in bounds, you’re making a play down the field past the safety,” Bernardi said. “Those three things are vital.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State Spring Football schedule
- Friday: Practice 7, 7:45-9:45 a.m.
- Saturday: Scrimmage 1, 8:30-11 a.m. (open to the public)
- Monday: Practice 9, 8:20-10:15 a.m.
- Wednesday: Practice 10, 7:55-10:15 a.m.
- March 18: Scrimmage 2, 7:50-10:15 a.m. (open to the public)
- March 29: Practice 12, 7:55-10:05 a.m.
- March 31: Practice 13, 7:55-10:05 a.m.
- April 1: Practice 14, 8:10-9:35 a.m.
- April 2: Spring Showcase, 10:30 a.m. (free admission)
Times subject to change
Practices to be held in Bulldog Stadium.
All practices open to Quarterback Club members, scrimmages open to the general public. To join the Quarterback Club, contact club president Kenny Mueller at 559-288-0991 or the Bulldog Foundation at 559-278-7160.