It was easy last spring to overlook the tight ends on the Eastern Washington football team.
Only two of them were healthy enough to practice.
Throw in three All-American wide receivers, and it was tempting to forget about them entirely.
But if the Eagles want a more balanced offense this season – a stated goal of head coach Beau Baldwin – the tight ends may well be the fulcrum.
“Of course we want more balance,” said tight ends coach Brian Strandley, who joined Baldwin’s staff before spring drills. “But there’s a fine line, and that is that the run game and the pass game work together.
“We’re striving for that balance.”
Even as wideout Brandon Kaufman was making some amazing grabs Friday morning, coaches were mixing in two-tight-end sets that gave running back Demetrius Bronson a chance at daylight – and the Eagles a chance to improve on their 869 yards rushing last year.
“It’s going to be a good competition,” said Zach Gehring, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior from Castle Rock, Wash., who missed part of last season and all of spring drills after a shoulder injury.
“I’m just going to play hard. I’m fighting for the first spot, and that’s what I hope to be.”
Ryan Seto and Cody Humphrey, a 6-5, 260-pound junior from Hermiston, Ore., also saw plenty of reps with the first-unit offense.
“We’re pretty deep,” said Seto, a 6-5, 230-pound sophomore from Lynden, Wash. “I don’t know who’s going to be the starter.”
The key for now is getting the tight ends integrated with the offensive line. To that end, the tight ends attend meetings with coach Aaron Best’s group.
“We have to get in sync with the tackles,” added Gehring, whose father played tight end at Eastern in 1984-85.
Humphrey, who has been converted from tight end to tackle and back again, said it “feels great to be catching balls again” and losing 30 pounds in the process.
Also in the mix are Jake Withnell, a 6-5, 225-pounder from Salem, Ore., and Terry Jackson II, a 6-5, 250-pound redshirt freshman from Sacramento, Calif., who may have been the silver lining in the clouds of injuries suffered last year.
Highlights included strong running by a resurgent Bronson. The lowlight was too many balls on the grass, which Baldwin cited as his No. 1 concern when he called the team together after practice. … EWU spent plenty of time on punt protection, using the spread formation that employs three blockers 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage and punter Jake Miller 7 yards farther back. A new NCAA rule forbids defensive players from leaping over the three-man shield, which may make the spread more popular at the college level. … Baldwin urged the players to stay off their feet until today, when practice resumes at 4 p.m. After another 4 p.m. session Sunday, the Eagles will begin two-a-days on Monday, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.