By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
Iowa State’s offense will need to fill the hole of Derrick Catlett at the number one tight end spot this fall. Luckily for Paul Rhoads and the Cyclone coaching staff, three men have emerged as being very capable filling that void. In this CycloneFanatic.com Q&A with the Iowa State coaching staff, tight ends coach Courtney Messingham breaks down the position in preparation for Saturday’s spring game.
How has the spring gone for the tight ends coach?
CM: Fast. It seems like we just started but I’ve really felt like they’ve played well. Collin Franklin has stepped up a little bit in obviously a little different role. He’s in a leadership role now with Derrick Catlett being gone. He’s played fairly well. He’s been consistent all spring. Kurt Hammerschmidt has made some good strides. Last year, he didn’t really have enough reps in a live scrimmage setting or a game setting to really know what to expect out of him. He’s been very productive this spring. Not only at catching the ball, but understanding where he fits and that type of stuff. He’s done a nice job.
What is he doing differently now to make him stand out?
CM: I think a couple of things. One, he has really done a good job of setting the point from a blocking standpoint. In other words, if we’re running the ball to his side, from a tight ends standpoint, he’s done a nice job of being able to base block and block defensive ends. The other thing, we’ve had an opportunity in some scrimmage settings to get him the football and he has done a nice job with those opportunities. He has to use that speed that he has. He is a 6-foot-6 body that probably weighs 245. He can run fairly well. Well sometimes last year, we didn’t feel like he ran with as much speed as we feel he has the ability to. He this spring.
I know that last year he was a little bit fatigued and couldn’t quite keep up. How has being in shape made it easier for him?
CM: That was a huge thing that happened to him last year. He went to what was the second game of the year, got the flu and lost about 20 or 25 pounds. He really struggled to get it back. Because of that, his ability to run and come back and go the next play in a no huddle offense and ability to go eight, nine or 10 reps at a time, he just didn’t have that capacity. Right now, he has been able to do that.
What is his next step that you’d like him to work on?
CM: He still has a long ways to go. He is a long ways from being a finished product. I think that urgency all of the time is going to be a key for him. He needs to be able to make plays when they are in front of him because that is what you are expected to do. Coming to work every day with that attitude of ‘if I can be physical today, that is what I am going to be. If I need to run streak routes or fly routes, that is what I am going to do and not worry about what was called, worry about how well do I do what is called.’ He’s done a nice job of that this spring.
What has Ricky Howard (pictured above) been like this spring?
CM: Ricky Howard is obviously learning the system. He’s done a nice job. He has put himself in a position where two weeks ago, you were a little nervous about does he know what to do? In the last two weeks, he has really made a transition where he knows what to do and now he can work on the fundamentals of how to do it. He is a little bit shorter. Because of that, he looks and is a little bit thicker. Because of that, he has the ability to bring a little bit more of a blocking game to it. But he does catch the ball very well. He doesn’t run vertically as fast as a Hammerschmidt or a Franklin, but he catches the ball very well.
His junior college coach told me one time that Ricky could fit into a pass catching offense well someday but he didn’t have much of a chance at the JUCO ranks. Is that something you’ve been working on with him?
CM: The thing I talk all of the time to those guys about is speed. You have to play with speed. If you are not able to threaten the DB, if you are not able to threaten the linebacker that is over you with eating up their cushion and playing fast, then you might as well be a traditional tight end. You guys all know that we don’t play with a traditional tight end. We are flexed out and in a position where you need to be able to play like a wide out but be strong enough and physical enough to be a physical tight end when we are blocking.
At the end of the day, has this group come around on the things that you focused on at the beginning of spring ball?
CM: I have been happy. If you would have said, how many objectives have you met this spring? We haven’t met all of them but we’ve really been able to click down that list and say okay, we are improving in all of them.
What strides has Kurt Hammerschmidt made?
CM: I think that his biggest thing is that he has gone from a guy who kind of knew our offense but because he didn’t get as many reps as the other guys, wasn’t as comfortable as Collin or Derrick. Now, he’s getting all of those reps as a two and we do run a lot of two tight end stuff. Being a number two, now he knows the offense much, much better. If anything gets hand signaled out there, he doesn’t have to think about it. He can just go do it. That is probably his biggest stride.